“You’re going to remember this day for the rest of your life” — these words were uttered by anti-terror police officers to intimidate and terrify British Muslim Babar Ahmad during the brutal assault inflicted upon him in a pre-dawn raid on his home on December 2, 2003. They were right; Ahmad never forgot that day and spent the last five years struggling to ensure that it would live in the memories of the British public forever. Finally on March 18, 2009 in the High Court in London, his efforts bore fruit when the Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police admitted full liability, confessing that his officers had carried out a “serious, gratuitous and prolonged” attack on Ahmad exactly as he had described it and agreed to pay him £60,000 in damages. The Commissioner admitted that his officers repeatedly punched and kneed Ahmad, grabbed his testicles, twice placed him in a potentially life-threatening neck hold, and deliberately wrenched him about by his handcuffs causing him excruciating pain. The Commissioner further admitted that Ahmad offered no resistance whatsoever throughout the ordeal which began at his home, continued in the police van and even outside the central London police station he was taken to.
The Commissioner admitted that at one point Ahmad was forced onto his knees with his forehead on the ground into the Muslim prayer position and taunted, “Where is your God now?” Ahmad’s family described this as a direct attack on every single Muslim in the UK and indeed, it was this initial allegation that united and mobilized the British Muslim community behind him. Now that the Commissioner has admitted that such ridiculing of the Islamic faith was done during the course of a sadistic beating at the hands of the arms of the state, one can only wonder what this will do for community cohesion. It is worth mentioning that Ahmad was not then, nor to this day has he ever been, charged with any offence. Yet, despite admitting to all of the above and more, the Commissioner has refused to apologize for the actions of his officers and does not propose to take any action against any of them, betraying an infuriating arrogance and failure to show remorse for their hateful actions.
The police naturally refute this and claim it is just a case of a few proverbial bad apples. The evidence thrown up by the litigation in this case however suggests that the problem is far deeper and is embedded in a culture of lies and cover-ups. According to documents submitted to the court, four of the officers who carried out the raid on Ahmad’s home had 60 allegations of assault against them, of which at least 37 were made by black or Asian men. One of the officers had 26 separate allegations of assault against him, 17 against black or Asian men. The police have confirmed that since 1992 all six officers involved in the Ahmad assault had been subject to at least 77 complaints, all but one were found to be “unsubstantiated”.
The allegations against the officers came to light after the High Court issued a disclosure order on February 13 demanding that the Metropolitan police release all “similar fact allegations” against the officers involved in the Ahmad case. The Commissioner’s legal team wrote to Ahmad’s lawyers a few weeks later to say that “because of the sheer volume of unsubstantiated complaints” against the officers they would only be able to provide a schedule of the claims rather than the files in time for the deadline. When asked for full details of these allegations, it emerged that the police had “mislaid” several large mail sacks detailing at least 30 of the complaints.
During the hearing it emerged that other crucial documents, including the officers’ contemporaneous notebooks and a taped recording of an interview with the senior officer in the case, had also been mislaid. It gets even more sinister. From the outset, two senior officers refused to give evidence, stating they were “too scared” to, something which even the judge found to be without any basis. After the gory details of their crimes had emerged on the first day of the trial, two of the officers involved decided that they too were not going to give evidence. Any wonder then that a week before the trial commenced, the Commissioner offered Ahmad £60,000 if he would agree to drop the case, with no admissions of liability.
Another body must also be castigated for its role in this whole debacle: the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC). Although it supervised an investigation carried out by the police, it also found Ahmad’s complaint to be “unsubstantiated”. The only action the IPCC took was to direct an internal police misconduct tribunal to bring disciplinary action against one of the officers, for the allegation that he charged at Ahmad. The tribunal refused to criticize the officer involved and instead commended him for his “bravery”. In failing to find a basis for Ahmad’s complaint, the IPCC ignored two independent medical reports, photographic evidence of Ahmad’s injuries, the inconsistencies in the officers’ explanations for the injuries, and most crucially, the 77 other similar complaints that had been brought against these same officers.
The IPCC has been frequently criticized by the legal profession and civil liberty organizations for its inability and unwillingness to take effective action against police officers. In February 2008, the Police Action Lawyers Group (PALG), a nationwide coalition of lawyers representing members of the public on complaints against police, withdrew their participation from the advisory board of the IPCC due to its failure to properly handle complaints about police misconduct, ranging from racism, violence and fabrication of evidence, to corruption and even deaths in police custody. Earlier in December 2005, the Islamic Human Rights Commission published a critical report, Who will Guard the Guardians, into the failings of the IPCC, with specific reference to the case of Babar Ahmad. The report found that rather than hold the police to account on behalf of the taxpayer, the IPCC was “simply pandering to the sensitivities raised by the case and allowing the police authorities to dictate its agenda to it.”
To date, not a single officer has been disciplined for the assault on Ahmad and all but one are still working in the Territorial Support Group, the special unit notorious for its heavy handedness and brutality.
In such circumstances, it is incredible that the Commissioner has now referred the matter of the refusal of officers to give evidence to the IPCC, the very body that completely exonerated these officers. By limiting the inquiry to such terms, the Commissioner is refusing to acknowledge the full depth of the corruption at the heart of the body he leads, and hoping to get premature closure on this issue with the complicity of the IPCC. The numerous issues raised above will remain unanswered if the matter is referred to this toothless body. In order for true justice to be done, the Director for Public Prosecutions must bring criminal charges against those officers involved. Further, unless there is an independent judicial inquiry into this case and an overhaul of the entire complaints system, the issues raised will remain unanswered, and cases like that of Babar Ahmad will continue to manifest themselves.
In all of this, there are many valuable lessons for the Muslim community, most important of which is complete trust in Allah (swt) but to also use the means at our disposal to seek justice. There are many in our community who have experienced similar mistreatment and abuse at the hands of the police or other agents of the state but who have not had the patience, perseverance and determination to continue their struggle for justice to prevail. For over five years, Ahmad and his family exhausted every means to expose the lies of the police, utilizing the complaints system, the media, MPs and the political process, civil society campaigns and finally, litigation at court. Right up until the very end, Shaytaan tempted him with dunya with the police offering him £60,000, just one week before trial if he dropped the case. Despite his legal team’s advice to accept the offer, noting that he would not be awarded such a sum if successful at trial, Ahmad recalled the reason he embarked on this journey was not for monetary reward but to expose the actions of the police and to ensure such an atrocity did not happen to another person in the future. He rejected their blood money and in return for his steadfastness at such a point, Allah (swt) not only allowed the truth to become manifest but also provided him with the £60,000 he had sacrificed.
I spoke with Ahmad after the trial had concluded and it is only fitting to conclude with his message to the Ummah: “Do not be afraid; a Muslim does not accept humiliation, oppression or injustice upon himself or upon others and no Muslim can stand idly by while the deen of Allah (swt) is mocked. The Path to Justice is long and difficult but as long as you remain steadfast upon it, you will get there in the end and never lose hope in your Lord.”
Ahmad could not celebrate his victory at home with family. Instead, he was taken back to his prison cell where he has been for the last five years fighting extradition to the US, accused of fundraising for the mujahideen in Chechnya and Afghanistan. His struggle continues.