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Volume 460: debated on Thursday 24 May 2007

I am today informing Parliament of an ongoing police operation to locate three British citizens who are believed to have absconded from Control Orders on Monday night.

It is believed that these individuals wanted to travel abroad for terrorism-related purposes. They are not considered at this time to represent a direct threat to the public in the UK. The control orders were therefore designed to prevent travel.

Their control orders included obligations requiring them to surrender any travel documents and report each day to a local police station, and two of the individuals were required to phone a monitoring company each night. On the evening of 21 May, these two individuals failed to call the monitoring company. All three individuals failed to report to their local police station on 22 May.

Public safety is the top priority for the Government and the police. Locating these individuals is an operational matter for the police, and an active investigation is underway. On police operational advice, and to assist the investigation, I approached the High Court to lift the anonymity orders for these three individuals and this was agreed late yesterday afternoon. As a result, the police were able to make a public appeal as part of their ongoing investigation.

As I have consistently made clear, control orders are far from 100 per cent. effective, but under our existing laws they are as far as we can go.

Unfortunately, within these limits, it is very difficult to prevent determined individuals from absconding. Nevertheless, I am already appealing to the House of Lords in several other control order cases about the interpretation of Article 5 ECHR (deprivation of liberty). We will consider other options—including derogation—if we have exhausted ways of overturning previous judgements on this issue.