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Ibrahim Magag: Disappearance

Volume 742: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2013

Statement

My Lords, I will now repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question asked in the other place earlier today. The Answer, given by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, is as follows:

“On 26 December 2012, Ibrahim Magag, a Somali-born British national who is subject to a terrorism prevention and investigation measure, failed to report for his overnight residence requirement. As I told the House yesterday, the police believe that he has absconded, and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

On 31 December, at the request of the police, I asked the High Court to revoke the anonymity order that was in force in relation to Magag. The police subsequently issued a public appeal for information that might lead to his location and apprehension. The Government took steps to inform Parliament of this incident as soon as it was lawful and operationally possible to do so. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department spoke to the chairmen of the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee on 31 December. This was followed by letters to both committee chairmen, to the shadow Home Secretary and to you, Mr Speaker. Copies of those letters were placed in the Library of the House on the same day.

The statements that the police issued on 31 December and on 2 January confirm that, at this time, Magag is not considered to represent a direct threat to the British public. The TPIM notice in this case was intended primarily to prevent fundraising and overseas travel. The Government do not believe that Magag’s disappearance is linked to any current terrorism planning in the UK. Nevertheless, we are of course taking this matter very seriously.

The police are doing everything in their power to apprehend Magag as quickly as possible. Although I cannot give operational details, I can confirm that the police, the Security Service and other agencies are devoting significant resources to the search for Magag. Members of the public with any information relating to the search should contact the confidential police anti-terrorist hotline.

Before the shadow Home Secretary stands up again, I would like to remind the House that this is not the first abscond of a terror suspect. In six years of control orders, there were seven absconds. Of those seven cases, six were never apprehended. Magag’s abscond is serious, and the authorities are doing everything they can to locate him. I will update the House when there are further developments as soon as it is possible to do so”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Answer to the Urgent Question. He will understand that it is of enormous concern that Ibrahim Magag, who is subject to a TPIM—a terrorism prevention and investigation measure—has been able to abscond, particularly when the judge who reviewed his previous control order said that,

“it is too dangerous to permit him to be in London, even for a short period”.

The Minister referred to how many people had absconded under previous control orders, but the key issue was relocating those subject to an order. My understanding was that none absconded after they had been relocated. However, the Government took the decision to remove the power to relocate suspects when introducing TPIMs. Given that they allowed him to move back to London from the West Country, to where he had been relocated by the previous Government’s control order, can the Minister confirm whether that made it easier for him to abscond? Was he subject to any surveillance at the time?

Finally, is it true that he absconded by hailing a black cab?

I can confirm the latter point. The last time he was seen, he was reported as getting into a taxi.

The noble Baroness misconstrues the nature of the TPIM system, which succeeds the control order system but is designed to provide proportionate supervision for people where evidence does not exist to secure a conviction. The only true way of dealing with terrorists is to find the evidence to convict them and to put them into prison; that is the only secure place that we can put them. That is a process of law for which we require evidence. TPIM is a mechanism whereby we can at least prevent the movement and control the location of individuals in the way that we have done.

My Lords, Parliament rightly put TPIMs at the heart of our intelligence, but in the case of Ibrahim Magag they obviously did not work. Is the Minister satisfied that the system, particularly the machinery and equipment available, is adequate for the operation? If not, what further improvements are necessary?

We can, of course, always review the circumstances of this particular incident in the light of experience, but we know that the resources available to deal with people such as Magag are considerable, and that they have been designed to prevent things like this from happening. As I said, it is very difficult to prevent people from absconding. We know that it happened under the old regime; this is the first—unfortunate—case under a TPIM.

Does the Minister not understand that he misses the point? We all understand and accept that control orders and TPIMs are extraordinary measures. We understand that the ideal is to have a trial in a court of law with sufficient evidence. That is agreed. Nevertheless, the point is that, although control orders were inadequate—the Minister pointed to some absconding under them—the power to relocate was the biggest weapon in that inadequate arsenal. After the use of that no one, to my knowledge, absconded. However, the point is that the Government removed that one effective vehicle in the control orders when they brought in TPIMs. Will he now bear that in mind and at least assure the House that he will review the operations of TPIMs to see whether what I am saying is correct?

I cannot accept what the noble Lord says, but I accept that he speaks from considerable experience in this area. Governments would be very foolish not to learn from experience. However, there is no evidence to suggest that the fact that Magag was here in London particularly assisted his absconding on this occasion. I accept, as the noble Lord said, that incidents like this should be reviewed, and they will be.

Will the Minister say what lessons have been learnt from this experience, and what steps have been taken to ensure that further lessons will be acted upon?

I hope that I have just given the noble Lord an indication of the way we think about these matters. It is too soon to say whether lessons can be learnt. The most important thing is to ascertain the whereabouts of this person and to apprehend him.

Will the Minister accept that the fact that Mr Magag did not abscond while subject to a judicially approved relocation order, and that he absconded when that was removed, is in itself clear evidence of the poor decision to remove relocation orders? Will he also acknowledge that nobody absconded while subject to a relocation order, and that there were no absconds at all during the last four and a half years of control orders?

Again, the noble Lord speaks with a great deal of experience on this issue. I note the point that he makes, but I have given my answer and I hope that noble Lords will accept it.

My Lords, when I took over as Minister for Security we pushed hard to allow people to be moved out of the places where they were causing so much trouble, and from that moment not a single person absconded. Quite clearly, therefore, the fact that these people are not moved has an impact. Is it not true that TPIMs also take up more effort from the agencies and Security Service as well? Although none of us liked control orders, they were a way of ensuring the safety and security of our nation, particularly with those movement orders. I am afraid that the TPIMs, having removed those movement orders, put people at risk.

I believe that I have given the noble Lord the answer, which I have given before. Of course, we will learn from this experience, but there are no current plans to reintroduce controls over movement.

Will the Minister inform the House how many individuals are currently subject to TPIM orders, and how many of those individuals have been made subject to such orders on the grounds, if I have followed the noble Lord correctly, that they have been raising finance for foreign terrorists?

I can inform the House that 10 people are subject to TPIMs. I cannot give the grounds for any of those orders having been made.

The Minister said that this was an instance where there was not enough evidence to take the person to court. Perhaps I may say to the Minister, if we were to use intercept evidence, would we not be able to bring all these people to court? Is it not time for the Government to move forward on working out a system whereby intercept evidence could be used in these cases?

The noble Lord moves the argument on considerably. We will have an opportunity to discuss all sorts of elements. Intercept is not communications data, but such data have been discussed in pre-legislative scrutiny by both Houses. Therefore, these matters are under consideration.

Lord Harris of Haringey: When introducing the legislation that brought about TPIMs, the noble Lord’s predecessor assured the House that not only would extra surveillance resources be made available to the police and the Security Service but also that extra technological measures would be taken to ensure that individuals did not abscond. Perhaps the noble Lord will tell us whether the technological measures were the cause of failure in this instance and, if so, whether the technology that has been purchased has given value for money.

My Lords, I have listened with great care because I have great respect for the Minister, but I do not hear a single argument in favour of getting rid of relocation. Will the Minister tell me what that argument is?

When it was introduced to the House, the legislation did not provide for relocation as being a proportionate measure to be taken in such cases. It was debated by Parliament and the provision was made. Therefore, that provision currently does not exist in TPIMs.

Does my noble friend agree that the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which several Members of the opposition Benches were members, examined control orders extensively in 2009? It recommended wholeheartedly that relocation to distant places away from family and support systems was no different from house arrest and was deeply disproportionate. The Joint Committee on Human Rights said that, in terms.

I have given the view of the Government that it is important to establish proportionality in all these cases, which is why TPIMs are constructed as they are.