The conviction of Andrew Rowe, sentenced to 15 years in prison for the "possession" of items which might be of use to terrorists seems to have echoes of the non-existent "ricin plot", especially in all the dubious "off the record" background details which the news media are adding to their accounts, after the reporting restrictions have been lifted.
Why did it take nearly 2 years for this case to come to court ? What higher priority cases does the UK Judicial system have to deal with than terrorism charges ?
The prosecution alleged that some old socks tied up into a ball, and which had traces of explosive residue on them (not "impregnated with explosives" i.e. not a potential bomb, as the weasel spin in The Times would have it) somehow had a "terrorist purpose", but not even the jury could agree on that one.
The suggestion was made that these socks had been used for cleaning the mortar tube of a Soviet made 82mm mortar presumably because of the handwritten notebook which was found, not actually on Andre Rowe or in his luggage when he was arrested in the Channel Tunnel, re-entering the UK. but at the home of his estranged wife.
Where was the "CSI Las Vegas" style forensic reconstruction ? e.g. the analysis of a similar bundle of socks, which had been used to clean a Soviet 82mm mortar ? Were the trace amounts of explosives and their distribution pattern consistent with this theory, or was it never actually tested in court either by the prosecution or the defence ? Were the traces of explosives identifiable with the trace element markers put into each batch of factory made explosives and propellants, or were there just generic chemical residue traces which might have come from other sources or via cross contamination in the forensics laboratories (something which does happen too frequently) ?
Rowe's explanation was that he had used the socks as gloves when handling some explosives in Bosnia in 1995, and that he used the socks as a martial arts practice kickball. He had apparently had copied out, by hand, the instructions manual for such a Soviet era 82mm mortar (presumably from some other document written in English, rather than Russian), when he was in Bosnia during the war with Serbia (i.e. technically fighting with or supporting groups who were allied with the UK Government at the time).
The prosecution appears to have had no evidence that had access (in October 2003 when he was arrested) to any such 82mm mortars or mortar bombs.
There appears to be no evidence linking Rowe to any use of 82mm mortars by terrorists against civilians, for example, or even by freedom fighters/guerillas against regular military troops, anywhere in the UK or in Europe or even in Chechnya or Afghanistan or Iraq.
Surely the concept of "possession for terrorist purpose" is being stretched too far here ?
Nevertheless, somehow the jury convicted him "beyond reasonable doubt" on this charge, and he was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
The second bit of evidence on which he was sentenced to another seven and a half years, involved an alleged "secret substitution code".
This contains a very simple list of code words based on different models of Nokia mobile phones and the substitution of some English counties for European countries, referred to by out of date names e.g.
Bosnia - Kent
Poland - Essex
Yugoslavia - Derby
Only The Scotsman seems to have noticed these items:
H2O2 - T280
Acetone - T68
Explosive factory made - T610
(ditto) man made - T?00
i.e. Hydrogen Peroxide and Acetone - possibly the same ingredients used to make the explosives for the July 2005 bomb attacks in London.
However The Scotsman also seems to fall prey to "ricn plot" style "background briefing" from unnamed sources, who allege that "Malaysian Security Sources" claim that Rowe was somehow involved ins some sort of plot to attack Heathrow Airport with mortars or , perhaps with shoulder fired Surface to Air Missiles - presumably the same mythical missiles which Hemant Lakhani was convicted of buying/selling ?
The "substitution code" does mention "Airport" and "Airline crew/personnel", but this is not evidence that Heathrow airport was a target.
The other obvious bit of analysis and comment which seems to be missing from the media reports is the question of who exactly this "substitution code" was intended to be used to communicate with ?
There have been reports of multiple mobile phones and SIM cards, used by Andrew Rowe, as if this was somehow direct evidence of an Al Quaeda connection - millions of innocent people have had multiple mobile phones and SIM cards (there are at least 2 billion mobile phones in use at the moment worldwide)
Is there, in fact, some mobile phone intercept evidence where Rowe used this code to communicate with someone, perhaps the French terrorist suspect Lionel Dumont named in the media reports, but which, under the current Home Office legislation, cannot be used in court ?
Surely the authorities should have continued to keep Andrew Rowe under surveillance, until he led them to some real explosives or weapons and to some other actual co-conspirators ?
To arrest and convict him on such flimsy evidence, is a scandal.
It sets a chilling legal precedent, which could be used against anybody in the UK, who has been "fingered" as a terrorist or an opponent of the Government.
If David Mery had been black or a Muslim, would he also now be facing 15 years in prison ? The items and equipment seized from him by the police are potentially far more useful to terrorists than those used to convict Andrew Rowe.