But acquittals raise new questions about Babar Ahmad case because Met has already paid him £60,000 damages
Four specialist police officers have been found not guilty of violently assaulting a British Muslim man during an early morning raid on his home.
Babar Ahmad, 34, a terrorism suspect who remains in detention, had claimed he was punched, kicked and strangled by officers from one of the Met’s territorial support units during an arrest at his home in December 2003.
But a jury at Southwark crown court has found police constables Mark Jones, Roderick James-Bowen and Nigel Cowley and detective constable John Donohue not guilty of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
The acquittals follow a civil case in 2009 in which the Met conceded Ahmad had been the subject of a “a serious, gratuitous and prolonged” attack – and paid him £60,000 in damages.
The jury in the trial was not told about the civil case and the not guilty verdicts will put further pressure on the Met to explain exactly what happened during the arrest.
Ahmad was arrested at his home in south-west London in December 2003. He claimed officers had stamped on his feet and repeatedly punched him in the head before he was forced into the Muslim prayer position while they shouted: “Where is your God now? Pray to him.”
But during the trial officers denied the claims, saying Ahmad had battled like a “caged tiger” during his arrest, which came 11 months after detective constable Stephen Oakes was murdered in Crumpsall, Manchester, by a terrorist suspect named Kamel Bourgass.
On the morning of the operation police chiefs had briefed the arresting officers that Ahmad should be considered as dangerous as Bourgass. They said they feared he would resist.
James-Bowen was the first officer into Ahmad’s bedroom and told the court the terrorist suspect had adopted a “fighting stance” and looked around for a samurai sword.
Barrister Richard Atchley, acting for James-Bowen, said Ahmad had fought like a “caged tiger” during his arrest.
Neil Saunders, representing Jones, said Ahmad’s account of the events of his arrest was a lie because his key allegations did not tally with a recording made by an MI5 bug that had been hidden in his home.
He said the recording, played to the jury, did not include any screams of agony and that no officers could be heard mocking Ahmad’s faith by forcing him into a Muslim prayer position and asking: “Where is your God now?”
During the trial Ahmad admitted travelling to Bosnia three or four times to fight during the bloody 1992-1995 war but insisted he was not the “al-Qaida superman” he was described as at the police briefing.
The conclusion of the case means it is possible to report that two of the officers found not guilty – Jones and James-Bowen – had 40 separate allegations of assault against them between 1993 and 2007, the majority involving black or Asian men. The Met said that all the allegations of assault against Jones and James-Bowen had been found to be unsubstantiated following inquiries.
They included a complaint from a man detained during a drug search in 2007 who, Ahmad’s lawyers told the high court, accused Jones of forcing him into the back of a TSG van before placing him on his knees, grabbing his throat and spraying teargas into his face.
In another incident a “black male” arrested for non-payment of fines and driving without a licence or insurance claimed he was assaulted by Jones and another officer. The document submitted to the high court read: “In van repeatedly assaulted – kicks to the face, stamps on his head whilst handcuffed.” The victim said afterwards he “felt like he might die” and complained of “vomiting and blood coming out of his ears, black swollen eye, lip busted hands very swollen”.
In a separate case Jones was acquitted following a trial of racially assaulting two teenage boys who had accused him of taking them into the back of a police van and shouting abuse about their ethnic backgrounds in front of his colleagues.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission supervised an investigation into Ahmad’s arrest carried out by the Met but no officer was disciplined as a result. Asked about the string of allegations against the officers involved, the Met said that all but one had been found to be unsubstantiated following inquiries.
During the civil hearing police said they had lost several large mail sacks detailing at least 30 of the complaints against officers involved in the attack. It also emerged that other crucial documents had been mislaid, including the officers’ contemporaneous notebooks and a taped recording of an interview with the senior officer in the case.
The Met is expected to publish findings of a review into the case shortly and will carry out a misconduct hearing into the allegations surrounding the arrest.
Ahmad has been in detention since he was rearrested in 2004 after a request from the US government over claims that he helped raise money to fund terrorist campaigns.