Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Who Guards the Guardians?

A dreadful story appeared in today's "Daily Mirror" - a British Immigration officer was so disenchanted with his wife that, while she was on a holiday in Pakistan, he placed her on a Terrorist Watch list so she could not get back to the UK. As with many of our pernicious anti-terrorist laws, when she was refused permission to board a plane back to Britain, she was not allowed to know why.

And so it continued for THREE whole years until he was found out purely by chance. Proving the old adage that crooks are not half as clever as they think, the officer applied for a higher level job requiring a review of his security clearance and at that stage it was noticed that his wife was on a list of suspected terrorists. Cornered, he had to confess what he had done and was duly sacked.

In spite of his appalling acts, he was described by a former colleague as "a bit of a legend" in Immigration Officer circles - yes, they do have such a droll sense of humour, don't they?

There is no mention of him facing criminal charges for excluding someone from the UK even although his wife had every right to be here. No suggestion he might be jailed or fined for abusing her rights or misuse of his position. He has lost his job, but after the most dreadful abuse of State power against a helpless individual - all the more tragic in that at first she trusted him to sort out what she understood to be some sort of mistake.

The case raises a number of troubling questions about the Immigration service and the supposedly robust state surveillance system which increasingly intrudes on more and more citizens' activities with less and less need for any justification for doing so. How often we are assured that this frontline defence of our homeland is designed in such a way that no innocent will suffer, no arbitrary action will go unreviewed and no unnecessary breach of anyone's freedom will occur.

Yet here we have a system which did not notice that one of its' staff's spouses was now on a terror watch list. Here we have a system clearly with no checks being made of decisions with momentous impact on individuals - this man was able to exclude his wife purely by his own actions, no second opinion or senior approval required, no periodic review of her case, no need even for anyone to meet her and question her. All he had to do was label her presence in the UK as "not conducive to the public good", type her name into a database and she was conveniently out of sight and out of mind.

Pakistani Police: no laughing matter
Doesn't it beggar belief? And is it not even more disturbing that although his employers had no real choice but to dismiss him, his wicked actions are seen as, well, rather amusing?

Never mind that his wife was stuck in Pakistan, not exactly well-known for its kindly treatment and liberal questioning of people designated as terrorist suspects. Has anyone bothered to check on her well-being or whereabouts? Or was it just a quick disciplinary hearing chaired by some embarrassed civil service manager and case closed?

The Coalition claims to take civil liberties and human rights seriously. This poor woman's case demonstrates how shallow their commitment is, and how wicked the last Labour Government was in foisting such draconian laws on us allegedly in order to protect freedom and democracy. Quis custodiet custodies?

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