Living With A Terror Suspect: Detainee U’s Landlord Tells His Story by Andy Worthington

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by Andy Worthington
Featured Writer
Dandelion Salad
6 December 2009

The man identified in legal proceedings in the UK as Detainee U is a 46-year old Algerian, who, as two High Court judges explained on December 1, “has been continuously in custody since March 2001,” held without charge or trial, on the basis of secret evidence, “save for a period from July 2008 until February 2009, when he was on bail.”

The judges’ comments came as part of a ground-breaking ruling establishing that U and another man (XC, a Pakistani student), who are both held as “terror suspects” pending deportation, could not have their bail applications refused or revoked on the basis of secret evidence. The judges drew on an enormously significant ruling by the Law Lords in June, establishing that the imposition of control orders on other “terror suspects” (who are held under a form of house arrest on the basis of secret evidence) breaches Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which guarantees the right to a fair trial, because a suspect held under a control order is not given “sufficient information about the allegations against him to enable him to give effective instructions to the special advocate assigned to him.”

On Monday November 7, the government will appeal this ruling, and will be obliged to explain openly why the Home office believed that it was justified in revoking U’s bail in February 2009 and returning him to prison. In order to establish some background to this case — and to provide some clues as to the seemingly hysterical and unsubstantiated basis on which U was deprived of bail and sent to Long Lartin prison — I am delighted to reproduce below an account of the surreal and intimidating circumstances under which U was required to live for eight months until his bail was revoked, written by Jack Hazelgrove, the owner of the house in which he stayed.

Maps, wire and fig trees – the Dummies Guide to Revoking Bail
A short piece on Prisoner U by Jack Hazelgrove

“It is ordered that the applicant to be known as U be released on bail …”

I had offered my home to U, a middle-aged Algerian about whom I knew little except that he had been imprisoned without charge or trial for over six years and who his solicitor described as “very studious.” He would effectively be under house arrest on a 24-hour curfew, tagged and monitored with surveillance equipment, his only relief from confinement being access to the back garden. Parts of the interior of the house were forbidden territory, e.g. the computer room, where my computer had new passwords installed and was put in a specially designed steel safe behind a reinforced door and extra window locks.

It was a relief when the posse of Home Office and security people left and U was able to turn his anonymous student room into his first home for seven years. The Home Office had made clear their objection to Brighton as a bail address and refused to pay any rent or subsistence, which they would have paid had he accepted their offer of an isolated one-bedroom flat somewhere in the North.

In Brighton we had a ready established support group with offers of material, social and cultural support. U soon proved to be a delightful guest. Every visitor was offered Sainsbury’s No. 5 coffee or mint tea and between us we set up play-reading sessions, and a course of British history and the causes of the First World War.

Every member of the group had to be cleared by the Home Office and this was painstakingly protracted. The two resident students were dealt a body blow by SIAC [the Special Immigration Appeals Commission], who refused to allow them to keep their computers, even in the excluded part of the house and even with extra security precautions, which our nominated computer expert had explained to the court as effective. Both students gave notice of their intention to leave. It was becoming clear that the Home Office did not want this bail residence to work.

If further proof of this were needed, this came with the first search, when seven individuals arrived unannounced to turn over his room looking for suspicious objects. The room contained a number of my rare books, which were unceremoniously taken out and shaken, no doubt in the hope of finding concealed papers. This was on 25 July 2008, within three weeks of his arrival. The search boss presented two items to me at the end of the search. The first was a one-page printout from Wikipedia on Alastair Crooke, the well-known journalist and advocate of East-West dialogue, and the second, a small piece of wire, about a foot long, unconnected to anything and almost certainly left by a former student.

The following Thursday, U was arrested on alleged breach of bail and taken to the SIAC court with a view to returning him to prison. At 4.25 pm that afternoon, I received a call from Justice Mitting about the printout. I gave evidence line by line and he repeated what I said for the record. I said it was almost certainly a page I had printed and left lying around. As it happened, the stringent bail conditions, whilst denying U access to the computer, did not specifically say he could not be given any printout from it, e.g. the Muslim prayer timetable. So a new bail condition was imposed forbidding anyone from giving him any printout from this or any other computer.

After a tense day, it was a relief when U returned home later that evening. We had survived the first attempt to send him back to prison but there would be more to come. The support was our lifeline: a cycle machine arrived for exercise in the garden and a television was installed in his room; we had visits from Victoria Brittain and Gareth Peirce.

However, on Tuesday 12 August, I opened the front door to a Sussex Police detective. He asked where U was. I said he was exercising in the garden and asked him through. Apparently the control centre had received a signal that U had left the premises. I assured him that I had been with U the whole time. After searching U, he informed the Home office, who needed to investigate this alleged breach of bail. When they arrived, they insisted that the surveillance equipment was working perfectly and also that we had failed to answer the phone that always followed the initial alarm. I said that it was impossible to hear the phone ringing when we were in the garden and that’s why it wasn’t answered. After further conversation, the lead Home Office officer said that, in the light of my assertion that I had been with U at the time of the alarm signal, no further action would be taken.

Our relief was short-lived, as, on 14 August, U was rearrested and taken to SIAC, the claim being that he had left the premises. By now it had become clear that, although U’s bail condition allowed him access to the whole of the back garden, the signal was failing to reach at least part of the patio at the back. The security firm responsible for the equipment was curiously absent from the proceedings and when the Home Office officers agreed with our barrister that they were not capable of dealing with the technical issues, the case collapsed. The Home Office had lost Round Two but they would be back. However, they finally accepted that the monitoring equipment was inadequate and, a week later, installed a ringer for the garden and an extra phone extension.

As the new academic year approached, I had the problem of trying to find two students; hopefully, technophobes, who would not be allowed a computer and whose mobile phones must be switched off in the house. The Home Office would have to be present whenever a prospective student arrived to look over the house and the student would have to sign an agreement to the stringent bail conditions. Amazingly, out of twenty serious enquiries, I found one student who wasn’t bothered by the rules, and a Polish girl who was so desperate that she would come, but would seek to leave as soon as she could find somewhere else.

Meanwhile, we were still trying to alleviate the 24-hour curfew. Perhaps SIAC would allow a one-off escorted outside visit to celebrate Eid. The application was refused but we had a nice party with everyone at home who had been cleared to visit. Later that week the improved surveillance equipment again malfunctioned and we also had the odd random computerised call on the special telephone offering various unwanted services. In desperation, the Home Office claimed my fig tree was the wrong sort of tree since it was interrupting the signal and told him not to use that part of the garden.

In October, I managed to break my hip in Brussels and on return I required daily injections from the nurse, attended, of course, by two Home Office officers. “Am I in danger?” said one of the nurses, observing their looming presence.

As autumn approached, the hours in the garden were reduced and we were engaged in various other battles — to reinstate his Open University degree, to obtain medical treatment and finally, in January, to obtain permission for an escorted walk in the immediate environment. A route was devised through the local park and we trooped up to the hearing on 15 January. The Treasury Solicitor objected to the walks but said that, if Judge Mitting were minded to grant a walk, these should be one a fortnight. In the event he ordered two a week with named escorts.

After a long delay I accompanied U on his first outside walk for seven years on Sunday 22 February, pointing out the various flowers, shrubs and trees in the park. The Home Office trailed us fifteen metres behind and a back-up car was likewise in attendance.

By now the Home Secretary had convinced herself that U and four others were likely to abscond, so it was no surprise when the most intrusive search of all was conducted on 25 February. Astonishingly, some of my maps, which had been looked through several times before, were suddenly placed in sealed polythene bags and numbered, no doubt as evidence that U was planning an escape route. Comically, my Maidstone map got erroneously referred to as Folkestone, perhaps to link it to the non-existent ferry to Dieppe.

And so to the bail hearing on 27 February when, after sitting at home anxiously awaiting U’s return, word got round that U and the others had been released and then rearrested using the Home Secretary’s Executive powers and held in Belmarsh. Needless to say, no representative of the State bothered to inform me of what had happened. The following Thursday, 5 March, U was remanded for a further period and on Friday 20 March, on the basis of “secret evidence,” his bail was revoked and he is currently back in prison at Long Lartin.

Jack Hazelgrove
18 May 2009

The Guantánamo Files book cover

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK). To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, published in March 2009, details about my film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (launched in October 2009), and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.


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