A Familiar Routine

In April this year, Phil Harrow, a blood service courier from Toxteth, Liverpool, was sitting in front of his computer in his living room as local children played in the street outside his front window.

This seemingly tranquil scene was shattered as heavily armed police suddenly burst on the scene causing the children to scatter in terror.

“Eight armed officers, dressed in black from head to toe and wearing body armour and ski masks, jumped from an unmarked white van, screamed at the children to get out of the street and battered their way into the house two doors down from mine,” recalled Harrow.

Minutes later three unmarked police cars and four large yellow police vans cordoned off the street as about 30 more officers shouted at residents to stay indoors with their doors and windows shut.

Three Asian men were arrested and quickly driven off.

Similar scenes were repeated across northern England as police swooped simultaneously on an alleged Al-Qaeda-linked terror plot aimed at unspecified targets in Britain.

Meanwhile back in Liverpool, a man was hauled out of a flat on Earle Road, Wavertree, about half a mile from Cedar Grove. While at Liverpool University, students watched in shock as one student was dragged from the library and arrested by armed anti-terror police.

As these events were playing out in Liverpool, two men were detained by anti-terror police in the Cheetham Hill area, another couple were seized in a cybercafe and a fifth man was arrested on the M602 motorway. Two other men were held in Clitheroe, Lancashire, where they had been staying at a local Bed & Breakfast.

The arrest of the 12 men – 11 Pakistanis and one Briton – had been rushed forward after a blunder by Bob Quick, the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner who was then Britain’s chief anti-terror officer.

Quick had been running late for a morning meeting with Gordon Brown where he was to brief the prime minister about the raids that were scheduled for 6am the next morning. In the taxi on the way, he was reading a document headed SECRET: Briefing Note Operation Pathway. However, Quick was in such a rush that he forgot to put the document back in its folder before getting out of the taxi and walking up to No 10 Downing Street.

As he did so a photographer took a photo of Quick clutching the clearly visible SECRET document. This was then transmitted to media outlets around the world, forcing police to bring the operation forward by 12 hours.

Quick’s mistake only added to grist to the media mill as it went into overdrive over the alleged “terror plot” in northern England.

Apart from generating a lot of publicity and speculation about Al-Qaeda’s presence in Britain it also effectively put an end to Bob Quick’s career, as he submitted his resignation the following morning.

Now, as Britain lowers the threat level of an al-Qaida terrorist attack from “severe” – where an attack is deemed highly likely – to “substantial”, where one is considered a strong possibility, some of those “terror suspects” have been released without charge.

In contrast to the media flap over their arrests, two of the suspects were released from custody with minimal publicity. Indeed, coverage of the men’s release was confined to the provincial press. Mention of their release was entirely absent from the national media.

This is becoming all too familiar: “terror suspects” are seized during dramatic arrests, which are accorded much coverage together with speculation about an impending Al-Qaeda terror attack in Britain.

Then several months later the suspects are released, usually without charge and with minimal publicity.

It’s almost as if the authorities were working in conjunction with the media to pump up the public’s anxiety over a “terror attack”. So maybe we should be asking whom the real “terrorists” are?

Are they Muslims, who are arrested in dramatic raids only to be released months later without being charged?

Or armed police, dressed in black from head to toe with powers to arrest anyone on suspicion of involvement in terror based on evidence that that can remain secret?