It must seem awfully peculiar to Americans that it should take their courts to convict Abu Hamza on terrorism charges, including a kidnapping he orchestrated in Yemen which resulted in the deaths of three British citizens.
Both the Home Secretary and Prime Minister have welcomed yesterday’s verdict. Yet, to listen to them is to forget that it has taken more than 15 years and a foreign court to hold Abu Hamza to account for these crimes, circumstances which should be the cause of outrage – not celebration.
This merriment is indicative of a discrete policy now being pursued by the Coalition which effectively outsources terrorism trials. In some cases there are legitimate reasons to extradite suspects, such as Abu Qatada who has charges to answer in Jordan. But it is also being applied in a number of cases where crimes have either been committed against British citizens or were planned in the UK.
Part of this is due to longstanding contacts between intelligence agencies and Islamist preachers. The government is keen to avoid too much scrutiny in open court of its so-called ‘Londonistan’ approach, a strategy whereby radicals were given space to spread their message provided they didn’t undermine British security or interests. Abu Hamza alluded to as much during his trial, suggesting he was in frequent contact with British intelligence.
Theresa May is particularly keen to reverse that now hackneyed policy by disenfranchising terror suspects altogether. Since the Coalition came to power the Home Secretary has stripped 37 people of their citizenship – by contrast, during the entire duration of the Second World War similar powers were used only four times. The thinking is simple (and rather populist): disbar potential troublemakers while they’re abroad and they’re no longer our problem. Stateless, but no longer within our borders, the outsourcing continues.
All this points to a remarkable decline in our own ambitions. For a while we seem to have given up, forgotten his sinister side, and just accepted Abu Hamza as a caricature figure we would have to live with. That he is now being punished is only due to the persistence of American prosecutors. We may have looked the other way on Hamza, but is the outsourcing of our criminal justice system something we are also prepared to accept with similarly blithe indifference?