I was awoken just before 8am this morning by LBC asking me to contribute to the Nick Ferrari show. I had time to brush my teeth and then I was on. I greatly dislike these formats that give you a minute to express a view, and I frequently turn down LBC requests. However they generally contact you the night before, and the poor researcher sounded desparate to find anyone who would defend the release of Ibn Qatada.
I made a couple of points. A Tory MP whose name I did not catch referred as always to unelected judges in Strasbourg. This is a standard Tory catchphrase and rather ignores the fact that all our judges are unelected. But I also pointed out that Qatada has not been convicted of anything in this country and that if, as Nick Ferrari was claiming, he had been calling in this country for the killing of Jews, that would be an offence for which he could rightly be tried and jailed. Because the tabloids say something doesn’t make it true. In the six years he had been held in jail, the state had found no evidence against him that would stand the scrutiny of a court.
The Tory MEP (whose name I did not catch) then interjected that our anti-terrorism laws were not that strong, because there had not been a single conviction for terrorism last year. I did not have a chance to return, but that seemed to me to reveal the very heart of the problem. For those in power terrorism must exist. It is a justification of much of their power and a great deal of state apparatus, not to mention a great deal of private profit. If nobody is being convicted, it is not because there is no terrorism – despite the fact that, plainly, there isn’t, nobody has been killed by a terrorist in mainland UK for seven years – it is a sign that the system is not working.
Now if nobody had been convicted for burglary last year, I would worry. There are lots of burglaries. But that nobody has been convicted for a crime that did not happen, seems to me a good thing. What is deeply, deeply worrying is that we have politicians who think there should be a regular flow of convictions for terrorism, whether there is any terrorism or not.
On which subject, I am troubled by the current large terrorism trial in Woolwich. The defendants entered a plea of guilty after being told that they would then face a maximum fifteen year jail sentence, and would probably serve just another six. If they pleaded not guilty and lost, they could serve twenty five years.
Forget that the charge is terrorism – I deeply resent the effective introduction of plea-bargaining into our justice system, with the obvious danger that innocent people will take the less risky course. For what it is worth, my impression from the evidence in this case is that these were fantasisers about terrorism who were unlikely actually to become dangerous, but were rightly pulled up. It is very wrong that they were dissuaded from having the evidence against them tested by a jury. There is a particular danger that more detached individuals were induced by group psychology or pressure to join the others in this guilty plea, but may have been cleared.