It has not been a very happy start to the new year for Theresa May, who will have to answer difficult questions in the Commons about the disappearance of a terrorism suspect. Ibrahim Magog has been on the run since Christmas eve when police first realised he had failed to meet the conditions of his overnight residence requirements.
Magog has been under investigation for two years and is believed to have trained with al-Shabaab, a Somali terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. The group has waged a violent campaign in East Africa and has long threatened attacks against the West (although none have actually materialised). What will trouble the Home Secretary most is that Magog was subject to Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures which she introduced last year to replace Control Orders.
The idea was that TPIMs should address the concerns of civil liberties campaigners who argued that Control Orders violated the human rights of suspects. That is not an altogether unreasonable charge on initial examination. The idea that individual liberties might be curtailed on the basis of secret evidence, heard in private, on charges unknown to both the accused and their counsel affronts most senses of equity.
May claimed to have redressed the balance last year by introducing TPIMs, arguing the new regime would be more flexible and geared towards facilitating criminal investigations. There is, however, little material difference between Control Orders and TPIMs. While secret evidence and closed hearings remain in place it appears only the practical measures designed to protect public safety have been pared down.
When Magog was originally detained and placed on a Control Order in 2010 he was forcibly relocated to the West of England, cutting him off from his radical network in London. Such relocations are prohibited under TPIMs and Magog was allowed back. The dangers of this are accentuated by another change which removes provisions for the Home Secretary to prohibit a suspect from associating with specific people. It is now believed that Magog was back in contact with his old network shortly before absconding.
Critics of TPIMs have long argued they are little more than a cosmetic measure designed to assuage public opinion. It is that very constituency who will now be looking to the Home Secretary for answers about how Magog was able to flee and whether a Control Order might have worked better.
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