The government’s terror laws watchdog says six men arrested during Pope Benedict’s UK visit last September were never involved in a plot.
David Anderson QC said police acted appropriately and the arrests were partly prompted by mistaken identity.
The six Westminster street cleaners were seized amid fears they wanted to attack the Pope mobile. The men were released without charge amid reports that a canteen joke had been misunderstood.
Scotland Yard counter-terrorism officers launched “Operation Grid” and arrested the six men on 17 September last year on suspicion of plotting to harm the Pope during a visit which began the day before. Questioned at high security Paddington Green police station, they were released without charge, having been held for between 33 and 42 hours.
The men, aged between 26 and 44, were all North African Muslims and worked for Veolia Environmental Services – which cleans streets in Westminster.
Mr Anderson, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said in this report he had met two of the men, spoken with lawyers and had also questioned detectives from Scotland Yard’s Counter-Terrorism Command.
“There is no reason to believe, with the benefit of hindsight, that any of the arrested men was involved in a plot to kill the Pope, or indeed that any such plot existed,” he said in his report.
“The powers of arrest, search, seizure under the Terrorism Act 2000 (TA 2000) were, however, in all the circumstances of Operation Grid, lawfully and appropriately used.
“There will be future temptations to use the TA 2000 powers in relation to individuals as to whom the necessary reasonable suspicions do not exist, particularly in the context of international high-profile events such as the London Olympics.
“Constant vigilance is required to ensure that the legal boundaries of those powers are respected, as they were in this case.”
David Anderson supports the decision to arrest the men despite noting that it was “barely credible that persons who were within a couple of days of executing an attack on the life of the Pope would have spoken openly of their intentions within the possible hearing of others”.
He does however criticise the fact that some of the arrested men were denied the right to inform a named person of their detention – a right which serves “to differentiate the practices of a civilised society from the unexplained ‘disappearances’ characteristic of a police state”.
It has been reported that at least one of the men is considering legal action against the police for false imprisonment.
The men have been deprived of the opportunity to challenge the disgraceful coverage of their arrests in the Daily Express because Richard Desmond has withdrawn all his titles from the Press Complaints Commission.