September 26 2023

‘An utterly Islamophobic verdict by a jury who didn’t care the evidence was bent’

‘An utterly Islamophobic verdict by a jury who didn’t care the evidence was bent’

The legal team of two men sentenced to life imprisonment for involvement in a terrorist bomb plot have spoken out about concerns about police corruption, the planting of evidence and falsifying of notebooks. In a new documentary screened last week in South London, the Birmingham Six’s lawyer Gareth Pierce claimed that the circumstances leading to the conviction of Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain, Mohibur Rahman and Tahir Aziz were ‘like being in a timewarp’.

‘There were cases in the 1970s and the early 1980s where West Midlands Police planted and fabricated evidence to such an extent that the squad responsible was completely disbanded and dozens of defendants convicted, one by one had their convictions quashed,’ said Peirce, who represents Ali and Hussain. ‘This case rests on the police fabrication and mendacity in the clearest way.’

Naweed Ali, Khobaib Hussain and Mohibur Rahman were convicted at the Old Bailey. Picture; West Midlands Police

The men (known as the Birmingham Four) were sentenced to life in 2017 after the jury accepted that they were a terrorist cell planning to hit military and police targets. Their trial played out against a backdrop of terrorist atrocities including the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge attack. Three of the four men had previous terrorist convictions – Ali and Hussain travelled to Pakistan to attend a training camp but came back within two days when their families discovered where they were and insisted they return. Rahman also spent time in prison accused of possession of a publication with terrorist content.

The new documentary is presented by the former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, now director of the CAGE. ‘During the trial, there had been four separate terrorist attacks,’ defence barrister Stephen Kamlish QC recalled. ‘People were getting increasingly nervous and scared about being the next victim. Who’s going to let somebody – let alone, a Muslim with a beard accused of terrorism – out at this time? It was just an utterly Islamophobic verdict by this jury who didn’t care that the whole of the evidence was bent.’

The key evidence against the four was the discovery of a terrorist kill kit – a part-constructed pipe bomb, an imitation firearm and a meat cleaver – in Ali’s car as a result of an elaborate sting operation set by the security services.

The men’s legal team accuse the police of planting the kit and then fabricating their notebooks in a botched attempt to cover tracks. Ali turned up for his first day of work at ‘Hero Couriers’ – a fake company set up by MI5 and West Midlands Police – handing over his car keys to his new ‘boss’ so he could park his car. The prosecution case was that the would-be terrorist mastermind had hidden his kit in a JD Sports bag half-tucked under the driver’s seat.

Ali’s ‘boss’ was the key prosecution witness in the trial – an undercover officer known only as ‘Vincent’.

Kamlish said that the case stood out in more than 40 years at the Bar. ‘In many miscarriages of justice, you get one small piece of evidence which over the years gains significance and then you can crack the case. But here all the evidence, from the beginning right to the end, has so many features which are palpably false, made-up, fake… . Any open-minded observer knowing the evidence would have realised that this case was a fit up organised by a small number of police officers.’

‘An an Oscar-winning performance’
The documentary highlights a series of major inconsistencies with the prosecution case. According to Kamlish, ‘Vincent’ had knowledge of the evidence that he could only have known if he himself had planted it – he correctly described the firearm to his supervisor as a ‘Beretta air pistol’ despite the fact its appearance was that of a standard weapon and at a time before its status had identified.

The men’s lawyers claim that ‘Vincent’ rewrote his notebooks and, in so doing, listed entries in the wrong date order so events appeared before they had happened. The issue of fabricated notebooks was feature of the Birmingham Six and the other Irish cases. ‘The whole system’s computerised, everyone was meant to put in a report on the day,’ recalled Peirce. ‘Whereas Vincent had to make up an entire month’s notes to try and get a different colour bag into his notebook.’

It was also claimed that ‘Vincent’ and other officers perjured themselves when they claimed that they were not in touch with each other during the trial. This was exposed not be true. One deleted and subsequently recovered text from Vincent read: ‘I’m determined to put in an Oscar performance when I get in that box.’  At one point, it was revealed that one of the jurors had a crush on one of the officers giving evidence after banter between the officers was overheard by the Guardian’s reporter (described as ‘more akin to Celebrity Love Island than the serious business of the Old Bailey’).

‘What was emerging in the trial was that officers were in touch with each other while they’re giving evidence, meeting in lay-bys to discuss their evidence in advance and there was inappropriate prior knowledge of what evidence is going to be found,’ explained Gareth Peirce. ‘If you had been representing someone wrongly convicted, and you came upon this evidence years later, it would be the key to the door. This would be evidence you couldn’t ever have dreamed of- clear police complicity. We couldn’t believe the jury could believe the prosecution case.’

Pierce was so concerned about the trial that her firm published a public statement on behalf of Naweed Ali and Khobaib Hussain saying that the lawyers were ‘profoundly concerned that the jury in this case has got it wrong’.

‘Recent history is quickly forgotten, yet the present case carries disturbing echoes for us of the case of the six innocent Irishmen, also from Birmingham, wrongly convicted of the bombing of two Birmingham pubs in 1974. The impact of the bombings themselves continues to this day, but so too does the impact of the police evidence on which the convictions were based – found 16 years later to be evidence created by police manipulation and fabrication that had been successfully suppressed.’

You can read the full text here of the statement here.  There was a failed appeal and an application is expected to be made to the Criminal Cases Review Commission shortly.

Mariam, Khobaib Hussain’s sister told the Justice Gap about her brother’s previous terrorism conviction. ‘He’s my only brother,’ she said. ‘He was brought up in a household full of girls and he was my best friend. He was influenced by the Internet or other people, it’s shocking but he didn’t actually commit an offence at the time. They came back on the first flight home.’

The family thought that Hussain had travelled up north to attend a mosque in Dewsbury during Ramadan and were shocked to discover that he had gone to Pakistan. According to Mariam, her brother ‘totally regretted his decision’. As a result of the Pakistan trip, he spent 22 months in prison. ‘His life after that was turned completely upside down,’ his sister recalled. ‘He did his sentence. He wasn’t allowed to come home. He was on licence conditions, so he had to stay with my grandparents.’

Mariam Hussain recalled her brother coming out of prison in March 2015, only to be ‘recruited’ by Hero Couriers the following August and subsequently arrested.  She claimed he was being harassed by West Midlands police and one officer told him: ‘We are going to grow old together.’ ‘We had raids on our home and racist officers to deal with,’ she said. ‘It destroyed our family’s future. Now it’s six years on, and he’s in prison. He’s hit 30 – this has been going on since he was 18 years. It’s a constant journey and a struggle that we are continuing to fight.’