Five Metropolitan police officers could face prosecution over a “serious, gratuitous and prolonged” attack on a British Muslim man that led the force to pay £60,000 in damages.
Keir Starmer, the director of public prosecutions (DPP), is considering whether to bring charges against officers from the force’s Territorial Support Group (TSG) involved in an assault on Babar Ahmad during his arrest at his home in Tooting, south London. An initial Met investigation concluded no officer should be disciplined. The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) did not bring criminal charges.
However, in March lawyers acting for the Met commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, were forced to admit in the high court that Ahmad, a 34-year-old terror suspect, had been the victim of sustained violence, and the force paid damages. The court heard how officers stamped on his feet and repeatedly punched him in the head. He was forced into the Muslim prayer position while police shouted: “Where is your God now? Pray to him.”
The IT support worker was then placed in a TSG van where an officer is alleged in court to have put him in an “extremely dangerous” neck hold. Another said: “You’ll remember this day for the rest of your life.”
The CPS is awaiting the conclusion of a Met review of the case which, its officials have told Ahmad’s lawyers, provides “a realistic prospect that further material evidence may be produced by the police”. Starmer, who takes an active role in deciding whether to prosecute controversial cases, is taking the case “very seriously”, prosecutors have said. PC James-Bowen, PC Cowley and PC Donohue and their supervising officer, Sergeant Paul Davis, refused to give evidence during the civil action, as did a fifth officer, PC Mark Jones, 42, an ex-Royal Marine. Jones was identified last week for the first time as a member of the team that arrested Ahmad. The identification was made when jurors at Kingston crown court acquitted Jones in a separate trial in which he was accused of racially assaulting two 16-year-old boys.
Paul Davis, now an inspector, gave character evidence in support of Jones during the trial, telling the jury that in 26 years’ service to the Met there was not another officer he held in higher regard. He described Jones – identified by Ahmad’s lawyers as the officer responsible for the neck hold – as “totally calm and disciplined officer … a decent man” who had never been “racist or disrespectful to any minority”.
There is rising concern over accountability in the TSG, a unit of about 730 officers who are on standby to deal with outbreaks of disorder anywhere in the capital. The CPS is deciding whether to prosecute a TSG officer with the manslaughter of newspaper vendor Ian Tomlinson, who collapsed and died at the G20 protests moments after being struck to the ground. Later this month a TSG sergeant, Delroy Smellie, will appear before magistrates charged with assaulting a protester during a vigil for Tomlinson.
Last week there were calls for an “ethical audit” of all TSG officers after the Guardian revealed the unit had received more than 5,000 complaint allegations over the last four years, mostly for “oppressive behaviour”. Only nine – less than 0.18% – were “substantiated” after an investigation by the force’s complaints department, leading to claims that a culture of impunity exists within the force.
Fiona Murphy, Ahmad’s solicitor, said: “Over six months have now elapsed since the commissioner admitted that his officers carried out a brutal and horrific physical and sexual assault on Babar. Despite these admissions the CPS have failed to prosecute a single officer for any offence.
“This is reflective of a culture that exists in the UK whereby police officers are able to behave as brutally as they wish with full knowledge that they will not be held to account by the authorities.”
2 December 2003: Ahmad is arrested at his home in Tooting, south London, on suspicion of terrorism-related offences. He is allegedly beaten, choked and subjected to religious verbal abuse. He is released six days later.
6 August 2004: Ahmad is rearrested after authorities in the US issue an extradition warrant. It is claimed he solicited funds for rebels in Chechnya and Afghanistan on the internet during the 1990s.
17 May 2005: District judge Timothy Workman rules that Ahmad should be extradited. Six months later the home secretary agrees.
20 February 2006: Ahmad launches a high court appeal against the home secretary’s decision to extradite him.
11 July 2006: The high court case begins and legal wrangling continues in the House of Lords. The case is eventually heard by the European court of human rights.
18 March 2009: The Metropolitan police commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, admits Ahmad was attacked and abused – £60,000 compensation and damages is agreed.
26 March 2009: A review of the handling of the Ahmad case is announced, to be overseen by a retired senior judge, Sir Geoffrey Grigson.
8 July 2010: Human rights judges in Europe halt extradition proceedings against Ahmad, but the home secretary, Theresa May, says he must remain in custody until a final ruling is made next year.
12 August 2010: The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, announces that four of the five officers involved in Ahmad’s arrest will face criminal charges