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Draconian Terror Powers To Also Target Suspects' Families

London Telegraph | January 28 2005

Family and friends of terrorist suspects held under house arrest could be subject to tough sanctions even though they have not been accused of a crime, it was disclosed yesterday.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, said people living with those subject to executive control orders could be banned from using the telephone or internet and searched every time they came home.

Commenting on Government powers announced this week, Mr Clarke said in an interview with The Telegraph: "Protecting national security must come first.

"Just because somebody's wife wants to chat with her friends about going shopping that's not therefore a reason to let somebody cause a bomb explosion at Bluewater."

The latest details will infuriate civil liberties campaigners and lawyers who were already gearing up to challenge the proposed anti-terrorism measures in court.

Although Mr Clarke said it was not "inevitable" that families and friends would be affected, entire households were likely to be subject to sanctions in some cases.

"I certainly can imagine searches [of people] going into the house," he said.

People living with a terrorist suspect could also be banned from using the telephone or internet if police feared the suspect could also get access.

"I accept that an individual is different to a family but where there is an individual who is deemed to be a threat on security grounds we need the powers to stop that person engaging in terrorism.

"I'm not seeking to attack the innocent, I'm seeking to make [the control orders] work for the others."

The plan represents an intrusion - almost unprecedented in peacetime - by the state into the lives of people who have not even been accused.

Mr Clarke insisted that the scale of intervention was justified by the level of threat posed by terrorist groups.

"There are serious people and serious organisations trying to destroy our society.

"We are in a state of emergency. . . The question is in resisting [the threat] do we have to take steps which we would prefer in a different kind of world not to take? Yes, because my first responsibility is to protect people."

He criticised "lawyers who believe that an individual's rights are absolutely paramount and that they come ahead of the need to protect society as a whole".

On Wednesday, Mr Clarke told MPs he was bowing to a law lords' ruling to end detention without trial for foreign nationals suspected of threatening national security.

Instead he intends to introduce executive control orders that can be issued against both British and overseas citizens if there is not enough evidence to prosecute them.

Suspects considered to be at the lower end of the scale of danger would have their movements controlled by electronic tags and curfew.

Guy Mansfield, the chairman of the Bar Council, said indefinite house arrest could increase the danger of terrorism by breeding resentment.

But Tony Blair threw his support behind the proposed laws. "I pay great attention to the civil liberties of the country," he said. "But there is a new form of global terrorism in our country."

A Home Office spokesman said control orders would apply to any terrorist group, including those operating in Northern Ireland. This would mean animal rights activists were not covered.

However, house arrest could be used only for alleged members of al-Qa'eda and associated groups because the measure would almost certainly involve derogating from aspects of the European Convention on Human Rights.