It's a frequent occurrence living in Britain and reading of your neighbour being arrested for a victimless-crime, but "Possession of Items Useful to a Terrorist" might just take the cake for the most absurd and abusable. The latest political prisoner and victim of this unjust law is a man in his fifties who collects Second World War items and "extremist documents". With no criminal record or history of violence, he appears to keep to himself, stating he suffers with anxiety and doesn't leave the house much, where he lives with his mother. Well, he won't be returning home for five years now, as the State has deemed it appropriate to lock him in a cage just in case he decides to become a terrorist in the future. Any archivist or collector is, in my view, an asset to society, and if he had held these items in a commercial building that offered tea and cake he wouldn't have been arrested. He has been arrested and imprisoned for his supposed political views. As I believe in liberty for all people, I feel the need to defend even those I find morally repugnant when they come under the heel of the State, so long as they haven't violated the rights of others.
Bombs? Automatic weapons? Anthrax? Well, no actually: a few books available on Amazon, and a couple of famous pdf documents. You see, non of these items are illegal to own, but under the Terrorism Act the State doesn't require Reasonable Suspicion for a prosecution. What this means in practice is anyone objectionable to the State who happens to own these items can be found guilty of potentially becoming a terrorist in the future, with the burden of proof falling on the defendant in such a case, as they must be able to prove they are not a terrorist, and that they have a valid reason for owning a book or document. A total corruption of our liberal Common Law values. It isn't the items that are illegal, it is the manner in which they are stored, and by whom. And so I would argue this is a purely political prosecution, with plentiful company.
I can think of a number technologies "Potentially Useful to a Terrorist" that I use on a daily basis, and not just some old books and documents from the 70s like this poor bloke had. Will I too be arrested and imprisoned some day for their possession and use? Will my libertarian beliefs be used as evidence in court, proving I may potentially become a terrorist in the future? What about my support for leaving the EU? My refusal to be vaccinated against COVID? Or what about my lukewarm support of Donald Trump in 2016? These are all anti-establishment viewpoints, surely evidence of a potential terrorist in the making if you try hard enough; in fact, you don't need to, as I must prove I'm not a terrorist, because that's the Britain we live in now. Every unencrypted communication, credit card purchase, and association we've ever made has been stored for the purpose of contextual evidence in a future prosecution, and the smoking gun may be something as benign as a book in 21st century Britain. This article may even be used in court if and when that time comes. If you think this is a bit far-fetched: an anarchist was recently charged with this offence just a few months ago. There isn't much detail on the case currently, but it seems they operated an anarchist website that hosted "documents"; whether this means a user of the website posted a link to the material, the server had the material on its drive somewhere, or the site linked to another location where the documents could be reached, I don't know, but all that's needed now is for the State to sprinkle the individual's anti-State opinions on top and voila: a potential terrorist.
It's easy to see how such a tool could be used to hush any dissenting groups the State finds objectionable, violent or non-violent. Any statute with such broad implications as the Terrorism Act will inevitably be abused when it becomes politically favourable to do so. Interestingly, section 58 of the Terrorism Act was expanded last year to include the "viewing or streaming" of material useful to a terrorist. The net widens.
As I remarked in my article on Common Law, it falls on all of us to reject these anti-liberal statutes when called up as jurors in unjust prosecutions like this one.
In 2006 several people were charged with terror offences in a plot to blowup an airliner over the atlantic. These were British citizens in possession of complete homemade bombs and left over chemicals, a number of so called "martyrdom videos", written wills, suicide notes, communications confirming their intent, and a number of documents on how to make explosives. Three of the twelve involved in this plot were charged with Possessing Items Useful to a Terrorist. It seems to me the law was correctly applied in this case: these men were in possession of "extremist documents", but the context of their possession wasn't their faith or political ideology, but a mountain of evidence detailing their intent to harm to others.
If you're in doubt that this is a political prosecution, let's take a look at some of the comments made by the State during the trial:
The Detective Chief Superintendent, head of Counter-Terrorism Policing South East, said the material he possessed "went far beyond the legitimate actions of a military collector", adding that "He showed a clear right wing ideology with the evidence seized from his possessions during the investigation". "In this case, he has been found in possession of very dangerous and concerning material and will face the full consequences of this by the courts". "We are committed to tackling all forms of toxic ideology which has the potential to threaten public safety and security."
Prosecution argued that he "has no legitimate reason for possessing this sort of information", and that his HDD "has been well organised as part of the deliberate and careful filling of material". "But the interest goes beyond Second World War history and Nazi memorabilia. He is also a sympathiser with the ideas of the far right - not just the Nazi party, but also modern extreme right-wing groups which promote the use of violence to further racist aims in contemporary society". She told the court there was also “a photograph of the defendant wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ cap, in front of the Confederate flag". She concludes that "The presence on his hard drive of three documents likely to be of use in planning or committing a terrorist act must be viewed in that context".
During sentencing, the Judge remarked "I do not sentence you for your political views, but the extremity of those views informs the assessment of dangerousness"
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