Officials scramble to limit Qatada bail damage

By Alex Stevenson   and Oliver Hotham

The government is "considering all legal options" regarding the decision to grant bail to radical Muslim cleric Abu Qatada, Theresa May has told MPs.

The home secretary said the government disagrees strongly with the European court of human rights' (ECHR) ruling last month preventing Qatada's deportation to Jordan, where he is wanted on terror charges.

Ms May said the government was doing "everything possible" to deport the suspected terrorist, she emphasised, and described the European court as having come to a decision "not in the best interests of the United Kingdom". 

The extremist, once described as Osama bin Laden's "right-hand man in Europe", was granted bail by Mr Justice Mitting at the special immigration appeals commission yesterday after the Home Office failed to get him deported to Jordan.

Qatada is to be permitted to walk one of his five children to school under the terms of his bail. He will be forced to remain at home for all but two hours of each day.

Mr Justice Mitting indicated that if after three months the government cannot make progress in its negotiations with the Jordanian government he would "very likely… consider that a continued deprivation of liberty is no longer justified".

British diplomats are seeking to persuade Jordan to give assurances that evidence against Qatada obtained through torture will not be used in a trial against him.

The EHCR blocked Britain's earlier attempt to deport the preacher on those grounds last month.

Attorney-general Dominic Grieve said that the UK was doing all it could to force Qatada out of the country.

"The government is obviously very concerned about this case, very much wishes to see Abu Qatada deported to Jordan and when he's in Jordan tried fairly if the Jordanian authorities wish to put him on trial," he told the Today programme.

"The court has indicated not surprisingly that it isn't possible in the UK to keep people detained without trial forever. The government is bound by the rule of law as much as anybody else."

Attempts to get Qatada out of Britain have been ongoing for years. He was first arrested in February 2001 and has spent his life since then either on the run, in jail or being closely monitored by UK authorities.

The case provides another example of Britain's clash with the ECHR. Supreme court president Lord Phillips has said evidence of torture in another country did not mean the UK had to harbour terror suspects "to the detriment of national security".

Qatada's case has also revived the debate over the government's terrorism prevention and investigation measures, the replacement for control orders.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said Qatada's case demonstrated the need for control orders and why the opposition had argued against the "weakening" of the government's counter-terror powers.

"The home secretary's foremost responsibility is the protection of the public and national security," she said.

"So the government also needs to set out how they are responding to the proposal for bail, what appeal they will pursue and what safeguards they will put in place including using counter terror powers as well as stronger bail conditions. Any bail decision must not interfere with keeping our country safe."

Officials do not believe Qatada will be able to participate in a terror plot while on bail, but observers have pointed out he will be able to spread his messages using the internet.

Videos of his sermons had been watched by terrorists before they embarked on the 9/11 attacks.