Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Terror Crackdown Is in Total Disarray; New Doubts Cast over Pledge to Use Treason Laws

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Terror Crackdown Is in Total Disarray; New Doubts Cast over Pledge to Use Treason Laws

Article excerpt

Byline: PAUL WAUGH

THE GOVERNMENT'S anti-terror crackdown was mired in confusion this afternoon as it admitted that an extremist cleric was free to return to Britain.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott declared the authorities were powerless to stop Omar Bakri Mohammed coming back after he flew to Lebanon on Saturday.

Just four days after Tony Blair announced a string of measures in the wake of the London bombings, critics said government policy was unravelling across the board.

The Director of Public Prosecutions is looking at using treason charges against Bakri and other Muslim radicals over remarks they made after the 7/7 and 21/7.

But the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer today flatly contradicted the DPP and the Attorney General's office, claiming that no one had "seriously been suggesting that treason is really a runner".

Mr Prescott also made clear that Bakri had "not committed an offence under the existing legislation". Mr Prescott was thrown onto the defensive less than two hours after the cleric had taunted the Government that it could not touch him under the law.

Speaking from Beirut today, Bakri said: "If there is a crime in the UK and my name has been mentioned, I will be the first one to return, to challenge all these allegations.

"There is no treason. I am not a British subject and I never committed any form of crime whatsoever."

Mr Prescott was asked about Bakri's defiance and was forced to admit the Government could do nothing. "It's a democracy not a dictatorship, for God's sake," he said.

"I don't think he's welcomed by many people in this country, but at the moment he has a right to come in and out." Mr Prescott said that there was "a whole range of things we are looking at" in terms of using existing charges and tightening the law. But he added: "As I understand it he's not committed an offence under the existing legislation. I just say, 'Enjoy your holiday.

Make it a long one.' " Home Office sources suggested Bakri could be excluded on grounds that his presence would "not be conducive to the public good". …

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