'Where is your god now?': London policemen on trial accused of beating Muslim

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Four officers from London's Metropolitan Police went on trial today accused of repeatedly beating a Muslim arrested on suspicion of helping "terrorist organisations operating abroad." The men deny assaulting Babar Ahmad, 36, in his home, in a police van and in a police station.

The assault charges stem from the December 2003 arrest in the city's south-west. Less than a year earlier a similar operation in Manchester had seen an officer stabbed to death by a suspect now serving life in prison. Jonathan Laidlaw, prosecuting, told the jury in Southwark Crown Court the officers had likely been informed Ahmad had militant training and involvement in overseas fighting. The police team was from the specialist Territorial Support Group.

It was definitely the sound of pain and not of him shouting out

—Custody sergeant

Whilst acknowledging fears Ahmad, who was released without charge, could pose a threat, Laidlaw rejects this actually being the case upon arrival at his home. Woken from sleeping beside his wife at 05:00 by calls of "police, police", "[d]ressed only in his pyjamas and barefooted, Mr Ahmad raised his arms above his head to indicate that he was not going to fight or to present any sort of danger or threat to the police," claims Laidlaw.

Police Constable Roderick James-Bowen, 40, was first into the room and knocked Ahmad back into a window, breaking it. Laidlaw had "no complaint" about this action but when "entirely submissive" Ahmad was handcuffed "[t]he defendants subjected him to a sustained and very violent assault - in effect they gave him a beating or they beat him up."

The prosecutor contends the four officers — PC James-Bowen alongside PCs Nigel Cowley, 33, and Mark Jones, 43, and Detective Constable John Donohue, 36 — "punched and [beat Ahmad] on the floor". The accused are said to have called Ahmad a "fucking bastard" and a "fucking cunt". "On the floor the assault continued as his wife called out for the police to stop," Laidlaw continued. This was followed, he claims, by a visit to Ahmad's prayer room, where he was positioned as if praying and asked "Where is your god now?"

As part of the investigation into suspicions Ahmad led a group "providing logistical support, financial assistance, recruits and computer expertise" to foreign militant groups, MI5 bugged the house. The jury was played a ten minute recording covering the arrest in which shouts, screams and apparent muffled commands were heard.

There followed a transfer via police van to Charing Cross police station. In the back of the van "[t]he officer sitting nearest to Mr Ahmad's head asked him where he was born and when he replied London, that officer punched him in the back of the head. The same officer then lifted Mr Ahmad's upper body and held him in a headlock with both arms. After releasing him [the officer] said: 'You fucking cunt, you'll remember this day for the rest of your life.' "

Mr Ahmad raised his arms above his head to indicate that he was not going to fight or to present any sort of danger or threat to the police

—Jonathan Laidlaw, prosecuting

At the police station Ahmad says he was led to an area unviewed by CCTV cameras and punched and kicked. He was presented in "a collapsing state" to the custody sergeant who was told Ahmad had been violent and resisted arrest. However, the custody sergeant was quoted in court as hearing screams at the police station. "I would describe the screaming as what I believed was a man and that he was in prolonged discomfort and pain. It was definitely the sound of pain and not of him shouting out," Laidlaw quoted the sergeant.

The officers are accused by the prosecution of having "lied" about any resistance offered by Ahmad, who was left with "areas of bruising, reddening and grazes to [his] head and neck, bruising to the chest, areas of bruising to [his] back, extensive bruising and grazing of the arms. In effect, there were injuries all over the victim's body."

Ahmad was re-arrested in 2004 and has spent the last seven years in custody facing extradition to the US. The US seeks to try him for fundraising for militancy amid claims he is a member of al-Qaeda; though initially a ruling in favour of extradition was reached an appeal is pending.