For my political generation, the problem of Northern Ireland was always a contentious issue, with atrocities being committed by both sides of the religious divide. The miscarriages of justice such as the Birmingham 6 and Guildford 4 have also left a stain on the British justice system.
Anybody who though such miscarriages would never happen again had their allusions shattered on Wednesday. Lofti Raissi, an Algerian pilot, was finally cleared of any involvement in the USA September 11th bombings. For over 6 years he has battled to clear his name, his only “crime” being to learn to fly at the same flying school as two of the New York hijackers. Solicitors for Raissi have now lodged a compensation claim for £2 million.
It is however, the comments of the senior judges that is worrying
On Scotland Yard
“There is evidence that the actions of the Metropolitan Police resulted in false statements being made to the courts contributing to the decision to refuse [Mr Raissi] bail. We consider that the serious allegation relating to the destruction of flight records covering the period of training with the hijackers (allegedly resulting from carelessness or incompetence by the police) would be capable of amounting to serious default which had a causative effect on the decision to remand [Mr Raissi] in custody.”
On the CPS
“It does not appear to us that the CPS can be absolved from all responsibility for this state of affairs. . . There is a considerable body of evidence to suggest that the police and the CPS were responsible for serious defaults.It appears that the [extradition] proceedings were brought for an ulterior motive and that the opposition to bail, based on unsubstantiated assertions, was also an abuse.”
On the Government
“The Home Secretary is required] to consider a case of this kind where the substance of the allegation or charge against the appellant which resulted in his loss of liberty was that he was a terrorist, a charge of which he has been completely exonerated. This appeal will be allowed and the appellant’s application for compensation will be referred back to the Home Secretary for reconsideration in the light of this judgment.”
If all these agencies had been successful in their aims, an innocent man would be in jail for a very long time. However, one institution is missing from the list, that of the media. Pressure for convictions, 24 hour news coverage and terrorist related sensationalism have all added to the clamour for the authorities to produce convictions. If this scenario is never to be repeated again, all the agencies involved must be free from public, political and international pressures.
Only then will justice prevail.