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'We can't lock them up forever' - top cops join terror debate

Not exactly forever...

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Hearteningly, the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has accepted that it shouldn't lock people up forever. Which is nice to know, but as a contribution to the current debate on the length of pre-trial detention for terror suspects, it perhaps leaves something to be desired, and skips over a little history.

In response to this week's announcement of the Counter-terrorism Bill, ACPO President Ken Jones said in a statement: "The debate around pre-charge detention is one that ACPO had called for. It is possible to envisage circumstances in which the 28 days [current] limit might prove inadequate... ACPO accepts that there needs to be a limit to pre-charge detention, however, this issue is now a matter for wider debate and ultimately Parliament."

Try switching "ACPO believes..." for "ACPO accepts..." in the above, and consider the difference that would have made. But belief and acceptance aren't the same. Back in July the very same Ken Jones was telling the Observer: "We are now arguing for judicially supervised detention for as long as it takes... We need to go there [unlimited detention] and I think that politicians of all parties and the public have great faith in the judiciary to make sure that's used in the most proportionate way possible."

Cue headlines of "Lock 'em up and throw away key, says top cop"? The next day Jones hadn't shifted the headline, but was protesting: "Acpo are not, have not and will never call for indefinite detention. It's about proportionate detention supervised by the judiciary and not detaining people for a day longer than is necessary." Which we take to mean that it's not indefinite because we're sure we'll stop detaining them some day, we just don't know when. He could always have tried playing around with "indeterminate" and "infinite", but that probably wouldn't have been very helpful either.

A further Jones call on the BBC produced "We are not arguing for some kind of Guantanamo nonsense for the UK", and "We do not want internment. That would be crazy." (Speaking of which, might we just remind you a previous Jones greatest hit, paedo-chipping?)

So yes, ACPO accepting there has to be a limit is a row-back from Jones' 'indefinite isn't forever' gaffe. But it all goes back a deal further than that. On 21st July 2005 an ACPO document presented the organisation's terror law 'shopping list' (covered here). In this, Ken Jones said: "The terrorist attacks on London on 7 July and today provide an opportunity for us to reflect on our systems and practices... Proposals should be measured and necessary and not viewed as a knee jerk reaction to events.... We have therefore put to the Government today the following views of the police service."

Clearly a very brief reflection is quite sufficient to avoid knee-jerking (check here if you want to fill in the cuts). The extension of detention time to 90 days was just one of numerous changes ACPO pushed for in the wake of the July bombings.

A few months later Met Assistant Commissioner Andy Hayman was similarly not trying to influence Parliament, with a letter to then Home Secretary Charles Clarke saying: "You will see from the attached briefing note the operational requirements for an extension to the maximum period of detention without charge to three months, for which I am a strong advocate." We covered the highly imaginative briefing note here, on pages two and three, while Spy Blog covered it here. Spy Blog heroically retyped and published the lot, which is particularly helpful, as the Home Office later thought better of having published it. ®

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