Get real: We are not dealing with Common Criminals but Committed Combatants

Convicted terrorists are not being prosecuted for radicalising fellow inmates and Jonathan Hall, QC, the government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, will today announce an inquiry into whether prisons are dealing properly with terrorist offenders.

This Inquiry has come not a moment too soon – and let me tell you why.

Over the last year I’ve written about how we must urgently change the way we deal with terrorists in our prisons, there are a number of points to be made but essentially they come down to these.

First of all, back to basics: any conviction under the Terrorism Act (Tact) must be viewed not as a simple crime by common criminals but, instead, as a Declaration of War by ruthless enemy combatants whose stated aim is to destroy our nation, our people, our values and way of life – the difference between criminal and combatant is, literally, fundamental.

The sentence for any conviction under Tact must be life imprisonment, the judge can set the tariff based on their individual circumstances, but then as soldiers they must be held in military prisons, under the control of the Ministry of Defence, where they cannot radicalise vulnerable others in civilian prisons as they currently do with impunity. 

At the end of their tariff, that is the fixed period of time set by the judge to mark retribution and deterrence, there should be a presumption against release, unless a specialist Tact Parole Board, consisting of MI5/MI6 officers, counter terrorism police officers, judges, psychologists and lay people, decide the applicant has displaced beyond reasonable doubt the presumption against release – perhaps simply as a result of old age, infirmity, or terminal incapacitating illness.

Any release must then be subject to the kind of licence conditions we have not seen the likes of before – but cannot argue against any longer. 

Lengthy daily curfews inside an approved address that is subject to disruptive unannounced searches at any time of the day or night, with electronic GPS tagging, internal audio and visual surveillance, internet and mobile phone bans, and covert monitoring too. 

The slightest step out of line and there must be an emergency recall provision that puts them back in custody with a key target of less than one hour and until a new Tact Parole Board again, if ever, orders their re-release.

These are realistic and robust responses that we need to implement now to keep our country safe – and if anyone disagrees with them then kindly go and make your objections to HMP Whitemoor Prison Officer Neil Trundle who came within an inch of his life when he was attacked by Brusthom Ziamani, 25, a Tact prisoner already serving a 19 year sentence for plotting to behead a British soldier, and 26 year old Baz Hockton a prisoner with no prior Tact links who Ziamani was able to recruit and radicalise inside Whitemoor prison where he was free to roam, obtain a potentially lethal weapon and manufacture a genuine looking suicide vest right under the noses of some of the most highly trained prison officers we have in the prison system. 

Anything less is an unforgivable betrayal of those like Lee Rigby, PC Keith Palmer, those slaughtered on Westminster and London Bridges, and the hundreds more maimed and murdered in the Manchester Arena; go and explain your objections to their relatives please, not to me.

Why Terrorists should be held in Military not Civilian Prisons

In early October 2020 two Category A prisoners convicted of the attempted murder of a prison officer at HMP Whitemoor, were sentenced to life.

Brusthom Ziamani, 25, and Baz Hockton, 26, stabbed “kind and helpful” Neil Trundle at HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire, on 9 January 2020.

Ziamani, already serving 22 years for a plot to behead a British soldier in London received a further 21 years while Hockton, who has no previous terrorist-related convictions and was radicalised in prison, was told he must serve a minimum tariff of 23 years.

We have to wake up and deal with those sentenced for terrorist offences (Tact offenders) differently.

Quite part from all those murdered and maimed on 7/7 and 21/7, and soldiers like Lee Rigby publicly beheaded on a London street, we have had hundreds of children and teenagers blown up, maimed and killed in the Manchester Arena attack, dozens mowed down injured and killed on Westminster and London Bridges, muslims leaving the Finsbury Park Mosque mowed down by a crazed white man in a van, and we have had police officers like Keith Palmer guarding Parliament stabbed to death and innocent shoppers on Streatham High Street knifed both by former Tact offenders released from prison.

The Whitemoor attack on Prison Officer Neil Trundle, where he came within an inch of his life, revealed that we have convicted Tact offenders roaming free inside our Maximum Security prisons – prisons providing the highest possible levels of security our prison system has to offer – where the evidence showed they nevertheless were able to acquire lethal weapons and manufacture genuine looking suicide vests, and all done right under the noses of some of the most highly trained prison staff our system has amongst its staffing numbers.

So what should we do?

My views are pretty simple, they come in three parts and they get straight to the issue.

Firstly, any terrorist, aligned to extremism based on race, colour, creed or any other protected characteristic and who, by their crazed actions, declares war on the UK seeking to murder, maim, mow down, blow up or otherwise destroy our country, our culture, our freedoms and way of life and convicted of Tact offences, then the sentence must always be mandatory life, with a tariff set by a judge dependent on the severity of the offence – and we need an additional Security Category just for terrorists too so they are singled out and identified for the very real threat that they pose; Category E.

Secondly as a self-declared ‘soldier’ of whatever warped ideological extreme they choose to align themselves with against the UK, their custody as ‘soldiers’ will be in the hands of the Military, detained not in a civilian prison under the agency of the Ministry of Justice where they can radicalise vulnerable others – but in a Military Prison, under the command of the Ministry of Defence, where they can’t.

Finally any release from their sentence post-tariff will be determined by a specialist Terrorist Parole Board, consisting of counter-terrorism officers, lawyers, lay people and there will be a presumption against release that the offender is required to displace but, if they are released, they will be on licence for life, Tpims will be mandatory and a specialist ‘T-MAPPA’ (Terrorism – Multi-Agency Public Protection Agency) will be established to monitor them around the clock.

If more innocent lives are not to be lost to these maniacs then we have to act, and act right now.

Why we need Category E

The two prisoners who attacked and attempted to murder a Whitemoor prison officer have now received life sentences.

Good.

And if anyone thinks the Whitemoor Prison attack was a one-off I refer them to the MoJ research report published a year ago on Muslim gangs in prison on The Prison Oracle showing how these gangs operate, how they label as grasses those who won’t convert so they’re attacked, how they have a clear hierarchical structure with bosses right down to foot soldiers, how they are spread across the prison estate and why, in the words of the report, a transfer to another jail won’t help because ‘brothers are waiting to stab you when you arrive there’.

Unless we take our own radical steps to tackle the virus of extremism in our prisons the very real danger is that it won’t be long before what happened at Whitemoor will happen again – and again.

The reality is the Prison Service is still in primary school when it comes to dealing with terrorist and radicalised offenders.

All adult male prisoners are subject to ‘security categorisation’, a risk management process designed to ensure every prisoner is assigned a security category appropriate to managing their risk of escape, harm to the public, custodial criminality, impact on the safety of others, and threats to the security and good order of the prison – but none of them specifically address the issue of extremism, radicalisation or identify those who are (be in no doubt) at war with us, our culture, and our freedom of religious choice.

Our security categories today are well over 50 years old, although slightly amended following the six-man Category A escape (ironically also from Whitemoor) in 1994, they are exactly the same ABCD security categories Lord Mountbatten gave us in his 1966 report and as a consequence they are light years behind the times.

Extremists in prison are a virus that unchecked pervades and infects all those who live and work in prisons – and we have done little but pay lip-service to it.

In 2017 three ‘jails-within-jails’ called Separation Centres, designed to prevent extremists from radicalising vulnerable prisoners, were introduced – but they were hopelessly ill thought-through and ultimately underused.

The Ministry of Justice claimed between 700 and 1,000 prisoners represented a risk due to their extremist views – but the reality is that these Separation Centres had space for just eight prisoners in each Centre and while two of them – at Full Sutton and Frankland prisons – held an average of between three to six prisoners, the one at Woodhill prison stood completely empty for two years and was closed down.

The Separation centres closed because too few prisoners were identified as candidates for them, the process of identification was complicated, unnecessarily long-winded and the centres themselves were far too few in number and provided ridiculously low levels of accommodation – providing space for 24 extremists, across three sites, when the MOJ figures themselves said they need to accommodate between 700 and 1,000 shows how poorly planned and executed it was in theory; but in principle it was bang on.

What we need is a specific security category – Category E for Extremist – that identifies Extremists from their offences the moment they enter our prisons. A Category E that has specific management policies for isolating them, ensures they are moved inside the prison in single numbers, escorted by a minimum of three officers – capable of becoming an instant three-man control and restraint team if required – with constant cell searches, disruptive management techniques, frequent prison moves and which both allocates and ring-fences the resources necessary to ensure we focus robustly on their management for all our sakes – but one that has a clear, earnable, demonstrable exit strategy too.

That is why we need a Category E.

We need a Category E to accommodate extremists inside a Category E wing inside each dispersal prison; these are people who are at war with us – these people are not simply dangerous, their declared intention is to destroy our culture, our country, our way of life and everything we hold dear. They think nothing of mowing down a soldier on a London street and publicly beheading him then waiting for the police to arrive while telling everyone stunned by what they have just witnessed why they did it.

Indeed it is salient to note that Ziamani, the prime mover in the Whitemoor attack is serving a 22-year sentence for plotting to behead a soldier in 2015. He was arrested in east London with a knife, hammer and an Isis flag in his backpack – given those facts how on earth was this person able to move around freely inside our Maximum Security Prison Estate, infecting others with his hatred, and coming within seconds of murdering a prison officer?

People like Ziamani are not your ordinary Category A armed robbers, crime lords, murderers, sexual offenders or even serial killers – Ziamani is an example of those with whom we are at war as a nation, people who infect our prisons with their perverse view of Islam and they get away with it because we allow them to freely associate with others.

Now, after Whitemoor, after Westminster Bridge, London Bridge, Streatham High Street and Manchester Arena we must take all steps necessary to isolate them, dismantle their influence on others and keep both prisoners and staff safe.

The attempted murder inside a maximum security prison by known extremists, who were able to fashion genuine-looking suicide belts, and acquire weapons they used to bring a prison officer to within an inch of execution, and do so right under the noses of prison staff, needs to be the wakeup call that we have so far, and for far too long now, simply and tragically failed to heed.