Shame as Liberty Turns Its Back on Liberty for Journalists

Liberty's website declares on its home page "Working to PROTECT CIVIL LIBERTIES, and PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS for everyone". But does that "everyone" not include journalists?

The release from hell today of Sun Crime Editor Mike Sullivan after 14 MONTHS under arrest and on bail for a crime he didn't commit led to this very apposite comment on Twitter. @Anthony_Bonicci said "Can't wait for Liberty, Amnesty etc to condemn the length of time Mike Sullivan has been on bail... and wait... and wait..."

It posed a question that has been puzzling me for some considerable time - not least because of those organisations' utter silence on the issue of what is effectively a form of Detention without Trial that I too suffered in a connected investigation.

I landed up in the same nightmare as Mike Sullivan for 20 MONTHS until finally the CPS decided five weeks ago to order the police to finally give up their increasingly desperate attempts to find something, anything to justify what they had done to me.

I know Mike and his family have gone through similar anguish, stress, torment and fear that me and mine did. But to some extent it is over for us now. Currently, however, scores of other journalists and their families, and other British citizens, are suffering the horror of the snail-like progress of the Metropolitan Police's Weeting, Elveden and Tuleta Inquiries into alleged press wrong-doing.

Many have spent well over a year under arrest and on bail like Mike and I did, but their suffering continues. So what has Liberty, supposedly Britain's biggest campaigner for individual rights and at the forefront of the worldwide fight to protect human freedom, had to say about this? Or Amnesty International, so fervent when it comes to fighting for justice in foreign lands?

Liberty's website declares in big red type on its home page "Working to PROTECT CIVIL LIBERTIES, and PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS for everyone". But does that "everyone" not include journalists, and those who have associated with them, then?

It is particularly strange as in July 2011 Liberty launched a major battle to stop the abuse by the police and the CPS of keeping suspects on bail for disproportionate lengths of time. In its conclusion to its lengthy and fiercely argued submission over the proposed Police (Detention and Bail) Bill it said: "We do however believe that Parliament must urgently enact necessary safeguards to prevent abuse of the wide powers afforded under the police bail regime. In particular a statutory time limit should be imposed, limiting the total duration of police bail to no more than six months."

"This could be done either through the Protection of Freedoms Bill or the TPIMS bill, both currently in the House of Commons." They weren't finished, by the way - they also demanded certain terror suspects shouldn't be kept on police bail either. So, if that was what they thought in 2011, and even applied to some terrorists, why haven't Liberty stood and screamed long and loud and publicly in protest over the many Weeting/Elveden/Tuleta suspects held for far far longer than that? Why didn't Liberty speak up for my and Mike Sullivan's liberty? Why aren't they asking questions now about all those others still in limbo on bail many months after being arrested wrongly in front of their families on pre-dawn raids?

I was arrested the same month as Liberty submitted their passionate clarion call for, well, more Liberty. In the months, years, that have followed many others were arrested and then just left to languish on bail. My old chum Jamie Pyatt, a Sun reporter, was arrested in November 2011. Other highly-regarded former colleagues and friends snatched up in 6am raids on the same day as Mike Sullivan were Graham Dudman, Fergus Shanahan and Chris Pharo.

They, and their young families, all still sit on bail today, not having been charged, awaiting their fate.

One has been given five separate bail dates, changed arbitrarily at a few hours notice, since Christmas. Another has been told that next time he returns his bail it is be at a different police station 60 miles from home. Why? Because that's more convenient that day for the officer involved.

These men, particularly their families, and many many more like them are suffering. They are not murderers, rapists, drug-dealers, burglars, or Liberty's much-worried-over terrorists. Even if charged and eventually convicted, they will still only ever be white-collar criminals.

The careers of ALL those who have gone through arrest and bail are all damaged, whatever happens now. So are some marriages, some have been driven to drink, several attempted suicide.

Their spouses and children have gone through hell - two young teenage girls were made to stand outside their bedroom and watch their undie drawers gone through by police as their dad was frogmarched away.

Another man's last sight of home as he was marched off shocked into the dark was his nine-year-old son being sick in the sink with fear. The fact that seven-month-pregnant Tina Weaver was raided and arrested and marched off to the police station at 5.40am last month, when she was alone at home with just her nine-year-old son, is simply an outrage.

So why isn't Liberty screaming the roof down about this? Why aren't its highly skilled lobbyists waving their report from July 2011 high in the air as they batter at parliament's doors as they demand that these long long long bail times are wrong wrong wrong?

Is it that Shami Chakrabati, Director of Liberty, has decided journalists just don't deserve the civil rights she talks of so eloquently and passionately for others on the Liberty website, or in that 2011 Report?

Perhaps Shami feels compromised. She and Liberty enjoyed much publicity when she became one of the special advisors to Lord Justice Leveson in his public inquiry into the the conduct of the press. She and Liberty again enjoyed the fame when she and Liberty went along with his report that recommends the end to 318 years of a free press and introduce state regulation of the print media.

Liberty is, of course, like many such groups, largely left-of-centre in attitude and premise. Almost universally, they don't approve of mass media that is not broadsheet in presentation or pink of hue. You know, the papers and magazine most people choose NOT to buy. Some such left-wing organisations very often fight for freedoms for those it approves of, but are silent about those they consider less worthy.

But Liberty? Shami Chakrabati? The British equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, which is so principled they even once fought for the right of freedom of speech of the Ku Klux Klan it loathed? Apparently not.

On Saturday 2 March 2013 even the Guardian, no friend usually to tabloid journalists, carried a piece by me headlined "Hacking - the Other Victims" with the subdeck "I spent 19 months under arrest before being cleared. We must stop this system of open-ended suffering."

In a call that was supported by several civil rights barristers and lawyers, I urged something far less radical than Liberty: That after a year on bail without charge the police and CPS must go to a judge to get permission to continue their investigation. Not just for journalists, incidentally, but anyone caught in the bail trap.

It was the perfect opportunity, there in what I suspect is Liberty and Shami Chakrabati's favourite paper, to step out and stand up for what only 19 months before they apparently passionately believed it.

Silence. It seems Liberty doesn't really believe that Liberty matters if it's for nasty journalists. So they smugly sit back and let the anguish and injustice continue. Shami, you should be ashamed.


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