Creating "Terror Suspects"
This case illustrates the politics of 'anti-terror' powers: the police treat routine behaviour as suspicious, arbitrarily create 'terror suspects', and then escalate their harassment in order to justify the original 'suspicion'. This case is unusual only because the targeted person kept demanding a formal, public apology until the Met Police accommodated this demand for basic justice.
Earlier today I met my solicitor to receive a letter of apology from the police eventually bringing the fight for my rights following my unlawful arrest to a close. The police not only offered some compensation and an apology but will also ensure that the officers involved are made aware that the police had to agree to such an outcome. Please find some more information below.
London 23rd September 2009 - On 28th July 2005, I was unlawfully arrested at Southwark tube station when attempting to take the tube after work to meet my wife. Chief Superintendent Wayne Chance, Metropolitan Police Service Borough Commander for Southwark, has eventually apologised to my wife and I for their actions and the trauma it caused us. We are happy to be able eventually to put this behind us.
Just over four years ago, I entered the tube station without looking at the police officers who were standing by the entrance. Two other men entered the station at the same time. My jacket was allegedly too warm for the season. I was carrying a backpack. While waiting for the tube, I looked at people coming on the platform, I played with my mobile phone, I took a piece of paper from inside my jacket.
The police found my behaviour suspicious and instigated a security alert. They surrounded me. They asked me to take off my backpack. They handcuffed me in the back. They closed and cordoned off the tube station. They stopped and searched me under section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. They emptied my pockets. They loosened my belt. Explosive officers checked my backpack, gave the all clear and joked about my laptop. The handcuffs were taken off (for a few minutes) and some of the stuff I was carrying in my pockets was given back to me.
This should have been the end of the matter. Instead, an officer informed me “[I] was under arrest on suspicion of causing a Public Nuisance”. They then took me to Walworth police station. They processed me. They took photographs, DNA samples, fingerprints and palm prints. They searched our flat. They interviewed me. Nine hours later I was granted bail. One month later when I surrendered to custody, they said they have decided to take no further action. It takes a further month and half to get my possessions back. Three months after the arrest, the Police National Computer was still listing me as under arrest.
I was arrested for a made up offence most likely in order to justify their having closed the tube station. This unlawful arrest caused further unnecessary expense from public funds and considerable distress to my wife and I. Despite all the available evidence (bar CCTV footage in the station, which the police never seized), investigators from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards failed to find that my arrest was unlawful: “there were 'reasonable grounds' to suspect an offence had been committed by Mr Mery and as such the arrest was both lawful and justified”. The intervention of a senior officer was required: “I disagree with that conclusion in respect of the arrest. I agree that the stop and search were lawful under that Act but I believe the arrest was unlawful.” That was still not enough for the police to apologise. The Independent Police Complaint Commission was of no help as “[i]t is not within the remit of the IPCC to direct the Metropolitan Police Service to issue a formal and public apology for their action”.
The police apology will be shown to the officers who were involved in my arrest and the subsequent search of our flat. Being aware of the long term impact of their actions will encourage police officers to realise that arresting innocents is not the only option available to them. Letting innocents go free and safe must be possible and has to be the preferred option. I hope that lessons will be learnt and that in future when mistakes are made they will be acknowledged immediately.
My DNA samples were destroyed and my DNA profile, fingerprints, palm prints and PNC record deleted two years ago. The litigation files maintained by the Directorate of Legal Services and the investigation files compiled by the Directorate of Professional Standards will be retained for a further six years, after which there should be no trace at the Metropolitan Police Service about this innocent.
We are very grateful to Sarah McSherry, Head of Actions against the Police Department at Christian Khan, for her formidable support in achieving this result. We would also like to take this opportunity to express our thanks to the many individuals who encouraged us in this long fight for our rights.
For further details, including the text of the apology letter, see