The director of public prosecutions has refused to charge two suspected Islamists with terrorism offences, easing the way for their extradition to the US.
Keir Starmer QC announced his decision on the fate of Babar Ahmad and Syed Talha Ahsan in advance of their last-ditch appeal against deportation in the high court on Tuesday.
The two men and three others – including the radical cleric Abu Hamza – are expected make applications for injunctions halting their removal to the US, where they are wanted for alleged terrorism offences.
During a day of fast-moving legal manoeuvres, representatives of all five men – Ahmad, Ahsan, Abu Hamza, Adel Abdul Bary, and Khaled al-Fawwaz – were lodging appeals and finalising court documents. The claims will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice before Sir John Thomas, president of the Queen’s bench division, and Mr Justice Ouseley. Last week the European court of human rights in Strasbourg rejected any further appeals to its upper chamber, agreeing with an earlier ruling that the human rights of the five terrorism suspects would not be violated by the prospect of life sentences or solitary confinement in a US supermax prison.
The decision was seen as clearing the way for their deportation following an eight-year battle through British and European courts. The Home Office believes the decision should have exhausted legal avenues and is preparing to send them to the US. But all five are making desperate last attempts to prevent their removal.
Supporters of Ahmad and Ahsan have called for them to be prosecuted in this country for their alleged connection to an extremist website. The DPP had been considering a formal request to consent to a private prosecution, and said he had declined to support the charges.
“I have refused to give my consent to Mr [Karl] Watkin to bring a private prosecution against Mr Ahmad and Mr Ahsan for offences under the Terrorism Act 2000,” Starmer said. “The underlying evidence in support of these alleged offences is in the possession of the USA. The material provided to me in support of the proposed private prosecution has been carefully considered by a specialist lawyer in the CPS special crime and counter-terrorism division.”
Starmer said he had also consulted the attorney general, Dominic Grieve QC. “I have received written confirmation that the Metropolitan Police Service do not intend to refer any further documents or other material to the CPS for consideration,” the DPP said.
The grounds of Ahmad’s application to the high court was that the DPP must be given more time to consider whether or not a private prosecution against him and Ahsan could go ahead in the UK.
Ahmad, 38, has been held in detention without trial since 2004. Before hearing the DPP’s announcement, Ahmad’s family said: “We are simply asking for the court to put a hold on Babar’s extradition so that the DPP has the necessary time and space to make a decision on the material provided to him in April 2012 which was kept hidden from him by the police for eight years.
“The DPP has confirmed that he is considering this material in addition to the request by Mr Karl Watkin for permission to privately prosecute Babar in the UK. We trust that the court will find that this is a reasonable request which is both in the public interest and the interests of justice.”
Labour’s justice spokesman, Sadiq Khan, has supported calls for Ahmad to be prosecuted in the UK for his alleged involvement in an extremist website. Watkin is separately seeking permission from magistrates to bring a private prosecution that does not require the DPP’s consent.
Legal sources suggested the home secretary, Theresa May, had discretion about whether or not to suspend an extradition order after a private prosecution has begun.
Last week the lord chief justice, Lord Judge, said lengthy delays in the courts were a source of fury for him but warned that new appeals based on fresh points of law could always extend cases.