Scotsman – Blair’s blunder over MI5 demand to hold suspects for 90

From: Andrew Johnson

Date: 2005-11-06 21:03:48…   Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, has admitted that MI5 did not request the new law. Picture: GettyBlair’s blunder over MI5 demand to hold suspects for 90 days JAMES KIRKUP WESTMINSTER EDITOR Key points• Home Secretary Charles Clarke admits MI5 did not ask for 90-day terror law• Prime Minister claimed security services requested detention period • Commons vote postponed on bill now seen as a test of Blair’s authority Key quote“It is the police who, through their professionalism, came to the view that 90 days is right. The security service aren’t committed to a 90-day figure, as such.” – Charles Clarke   Story in full CHARLES Clarke, the Home Secretary, has admitted that MI5 did not request a new law allowing terror suspects be detained without charge for up to 90 days – directly contradicting Tony Blair, the Prime Minister. Mr Clarke’s admission, confirming advice first revealed in The Scotsman last month, came as government insiders admitted he is increasingly at odds with Mr Blair over whether to water down the controversial 90-day plan. The battle comes as Mr Blair turns his 90-day proposal into a litmus test of his authority – after postponing a Commons vote on the issue on Wednesday through fear it would be defeated. Throughout the debate on the Terrorism Bill currently before parliament, ministers have said they are enacting the wishes of the “police and security services” – claiming they say they need 90 days to investigate detainees. Downing Street repeated this last night, saying it takes six to eight weeks to translate tapped phone calls into English and rake through suspects’ household waste for clues of a terrorist plot. But Mr Clarke privately believes this time-limit is politically unsellable and must be reduced to a shorter period if the Terrorism Bill is to be passed by the Commons. The Prime Minister’s argument for the new power, contained in the Terrorism Bill currently before parliament, is based on the published advice of senior police commanders. They say they need to be able to detain suspects for many weeks in order to carry out the investigations required to bring charges against terrorists. But, at times, some government members have also invoked MI5 – claiming that the security service had also asked for the new power at a Whitehall meeting following the 7 July suicide attacks on London. While the police and MI5 often work together, they are distinct organisations with separate responsibilities. In August, Mr Blair called the plan for a 90-day detention a “police and security service request”. Hazel Blears, the Home Office minister for counter-terrorism, last month said that “the three-month period is what the police and security service say is necessary”. But, as The Scotsman revealed on 18 October, Whitehall officials insist that MI5 has not directly requested or advocated any particular policy. Instead, the service has given ministers an analysis of what it could achieve with a range of different powers being considered. Mr Clarke has now admitted the 90-day plan came solely from the police. ” It is the police who, through their professionalism, came to the view that 90 days is right,” he said. “The security service aren’t committed to a 90-day figure, as such.” The minister accepted that, contrary to the suggestions from his colleagues, it would not be appropriate for MI5 to be making direct recommendations on government policy. MI5 is known to see advantages in extending the detention period, but is rarely directly involved in investigations aimed at bringing criminal charges. Mr Clarke said: “The security services think their case is right, but it’s not within their professional competence because they are not the people going through the police process.” The apparent contradiction between Mr Blair’s claim and the reality has caused concern in parts of the security services, where many have painful memories of the government’s use of the intelligence services to justify the war in Iraq. The Scotsman understands that, as a result of those concerns, Mr Clarke was recently grilled about the 90-day clause by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC), the secretive parliamentary watchdog on intelligence matters. Following that, Michael Mates, a Conservative MP who sits on the committee, this week challenged Mr Clarke about the origins of the 90-day proposal in the Commons. In response, Mr Clarke admitted that MI5 “do not believe that they are professionally competent to judge whether 90 days is right compared to other times”. Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Clarke admitted that the difference between the remit of the police and that of MI5 had “led to confusion” in his appearance before the ISC to discuss the Terrorism Bill. Downing Street has refused to comment on the role of MI5 in the drawing up of the Terrorism Bill or to explain Mr Blair’s comment in August.This article:

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