Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, slams ‘unacceptable’ interference by Strasbourg judges as one of Britain’s most dangerous terrorists claims his rights were infringed.
One of Britain’s most dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists is seeking to have his conviction overturned on human rights grounds, The Telegraph can disclose.
Abdulla Ahmed Ali, the ringleader of a suicide plot which could have killed 10,000 people, has gone to the European Court of Human Rights to claim his human rights were infringed by publicity before he was convicted of conspiracy to murder.
He alleges the jury would have been prejudiced by media coverage of a previous trial.
That trial included the disclosure that Ali had recorded a “suicide video” saying his plot to bring down airliners with liquid bombs disguised as soft drinks was intended to “teach a lesson” non-Muslims “will never forget”.
He is currently serving a life sentence for leading the liquid bomb plot. Investigating and prosecuting the conspiracy has already cost the taxpayer more than £100 million, and Ali’s legal challenge will push the bill even higher.
Although the Strasbourg judges do not have the power to quash his conviction directly, it would be disastrous for the Government if they rule in the terrorist’s favour.
If Ali is allowed a full hearing by the court – and then wins his case – it would open the way for him and his fellow plotters to launch a new bid in the British courts to have their convictions quashed, using the European ruling to convince British judges that their convictions are “unfair”.
Although the case is still an early stage it will be seen by observers as another threat to the sovereignty of British law.
Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, said the case highlighted why there was an urgent need for reforms to human rights laws – and how the Strasbourg court was increasingly willing to interfere in Britain’s justice system.
“This is yet a further example of why things cannot go on as they are,” he said.
“It is unacceptable to have a situation in which claims to the European Court of Human Rights are actually being used to undermine our justice system.
“Our system is one of the best in the world and the Strasbourg Court has no business telling us how to run it.”
Mr Grayling, in an interview with The Telegraph, says the Conservatives will go into the next election promising abolition of the Human Rights Act.
Dominic Raab, a Conservative MP who has campaigned for human rights reform, said: “Strasbourg should not be giving succour to one of the most dangerous terrorists to threaten Britain in recent memory, a man that sought to inflict carnage, but nevertheless received all the fairness of the British justice system.
“This kind of case brings the European Court into disrepute, and only strengthens the case for reform, if Britain is going to continue to stay within its jurisdiction.”
The al-Qaeda cell plotted to detonate home-made liquid explosives on board at least seven transatlantic passenger flights bound for US and Canada. It had the potential to be many times more deadly than the 9/11 attacks of 2001.
It led to restrictions, which remain in place, on passengers carrying liquids in their hand luggage.
When Ali was arrested he had a computer memory stick in his pocket which highlighted seven flights from London to North American cities which were each carrying hundreds of passengers and crew.
Security sources believed the men were considering an even larger attack involving up to 18 suicide bombers which could have killed 5,000 people in the air and as many again on the ground. The men had collected enough chemicals to make 20 liquid bombs disguised in soft drink bottles.
The “suicide” video found by police at the home of one of the plotters showed Ali saying he wanted “to punish and to humiliate the kuffar [a derogatory term for non-Muslims], to teach them a lesson that they will never forget”.
Ali sent an email on August 6, 2006, to Rashid Rauf, his al-Qaeda controller in Pakistan, indicated he had done all his “preparation work” and was almost ready to launch the attacks.
The ringleader, now 33, was convicted of conspiracy to endanger the safety of an aircraft in his first trial in 2008 but the jury was unable to reach a verdict on a charge of conspiracy to murder.
His retrial at Woolwich Crown Court, south-east London, in September 2009 saw him convicted of both charges. The terrorist was jailed for life with a minimum term of 40 years.
In the new Strasbourg challenge, Ali claims “adverse publicity” by the media between his trial and his retrial meant his conviction breached human rights laws.
He claims media reports of his initial conviction will have skewed the jury’s decision in the second court case.
Mr Justice Henriques, the British trial judge, heard a similar claim by Ali’s defence lawyers at the time and ruled he had “no fears that the jury will be influenced by those earlier press reports”.
British judges at the Court of Appeal have already ruled the case does not merit a hearing. But by going to Strasbourg the terrorist has another chance to seek to undermine his conviction.
The Telegraph can disclose that the European Court of Human Rights has already examined Ali’s application and allowed it through the first stage of consideration for a full hearing.
His case was then adjourned last month because more information was needed to establish whether his case was admissible.
The British government has been asked by the European judges to answer a series of questions about Ali’s prosecution to establish whether he had a “fair trial by an impartial tribunal” as required under Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
In particular, the government has been asked to provide more information about directions given to the jury by the judge at the retrial, and to give its view on whether he had a fair trial in light of media coverage at the time.
Four of Ali’s co-conspirators also brought cases to Strasbourg but had their cases thrown out – in three of the cases it was because their lawyers made a mistake and submitted the appeals one day after the deadline. The fourth case was submitted several months late.
Applications by Tanvir Hussain, who was jailed for a minimum of 32 years, Umar Islam, who was jailed for a minimum of 22 years, and Ibrahim Savant, who received a minimum of 20 years, were ruled inadmissible by the Strasbourg judges.
Lawyers for the three men, Tuckers Solicitors, submitted the appeal papers on May 17, 2012, which was the day after the deadline, the court papers show.
Duncan Lewis Solicitors, the lawyers for the fifth applicant Waheed Zaman also submitted the papers late, in September 2012, and his case was also ruled inadmissible. Zaman is also serving a minimum term of 20 years.
In total, eight men were convicted for their roles in the plot to blow up aircraft with liquid bombs after three trials.
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