This week Theresa May was forced to come to the Commons and tell MPs that suspected terrorist Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed had absconded from his TPIM order, his whereabouts now unknown. When asked any questions about this though it is not answers the Home Secretary provides but many many more questions get raised.
TPIM orders were introduced by May three years ago and are a set of restrictions placed on individuals who have not been convicted of a crime but are a known terrorist threat and a threat to our security. The purpose of a TPIM order is to control this threat. They replaced control orders and just like them they are not a perfect policy.
No one wants these type of orders - it would of course be cheaper, more effective and fairer to have these people convicted and jailed - but, sadly, there are cases where evidence is inadmissible (either because it includes sensitive intelligence or because it is acquired by intercept) and this means we need an alternative for the very small number of people who pose a clear threat. TPIMS, as with control orders, are covered by judicial oversight and various legal safeguards.
Again, just as with control orders, TPIMS are used sparingly: it is estimated that around 2000 people are on the terrorism watch list, but only eight (10 before two absconded) are on a TPIM. As the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation said in his annual report: "The allegations against some subjects are at the highest end of seriousness, even by the standards of international terrorism". This is why it is big news when one of these individuals goes missing and why Ahmed Mohamed's disappearance leaves 4 main questions for the Home Secretary to answer.
Firstly, she has to explain why she abandoned the relocation power available under control orders. This is the main difference between TPIMS and control orders and means there can no longer be a requirement that the person live away from a specified area. People are placed on a TPIM because they are part of a network who are looking to facilitate terrorism. A person's ability to do this is fundamentally undermined if they are removed from their support networks in a geographical area.
Secondly, she has to explain who determined the level of surveillance attached to a TPIM. When she announced plans to remove the relocation tool, Ministers and the Police were keen to stress that in its place would be an elaborate web of surveillance provided by specially trained officers. The then terrorism reviewer, Lord Carlile QC estimated the cost would rocket from £1.8million per person on a control order per year up to £18million per TPIM order per year. Crucially, the Home Office promised to fund this extra surveillance. But when we see how easy it was for Magag who disappeared in a black cab last New Year and more recently Ahmed Mohamed who absconded dressed as a woman, we have to ask what level of surveillance was actually in place. Ministers have repeatedly refused to confirm whether either was under direct surveillance they absconded but if the level of surveillance was lower than that promised to the Commons then the Home Secretary needs to come clean about who decided this.
Thirdly, she has to come clean about the danger these people pose. She has consistently claimed that neither Magag nor Ahmed Mohammed is a danger to the UK. But Lord Justice Collins previously ruled that Magag was "too dangerous to permit ... to be in London even for a short period". Both Magag and Ahmed Mohammed are linked to Al-Shaabab, the Somalia group behind the attack on the Westgate Centre in Kenya. If Al-Shaabab has the capacity both to help these individuals abscond and in Magag's case to keep him hidden for nine months, then it is real cause for concern.
Finally, she has to explain her long-term plan. The TPIMS orders currently in force expire on the 26 January 2014 and cannot be renewed. From this date forward there will be no more absconding because there will be no more TPIMS. This includes terrorist suspect known as AY connected to "a viable plot to commit mass murder by bringing down transatlantic passenger airlines by suicide bombings" (Lord Justice Mitting) and terrorist suspect CD alleged to have trained alongside the 7/7 bombers and to have attempted to acquire firearms to commit a terrorist attack against London.
Theresa May was embarrassed by the loss of the second TPIM suspect this week. So embarrassed in fact that she risked compromising the investigation be delaying the announcement for 48 hours. But there are issues here more important that political pride. Yvette Cooper has been calling for a review of the law in this area since Magag disappeared and now we have Boris Johnson recognising the need for TPIMS to be beefed up.
Now is the time for Theresa May to listen and act.