25 September 2012

It was David Blunkett, Frank

Tuesday 25 September’s BBCR4 Today programme was enlivened by a revelation from the BBC's security correspondent, Frank Gardner. He surprised Jim Naughtie when he said that the Queen had told him she had been pretty upset that there was no way to arrest the radical cleric Abu Hamza and had spoken to the Home Secretary about it. The BBC later made a statement saying the conversation between Frank Gardner and the Queen should have remained private and that it 'deeply regretted' the breach of confidence. On Today Gardner said he couldn’t remember who had been Home Secretary at the time. Well, it seems to have been David Blunkett. The BBC’s statement included his response:
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett said "categorically" that the Queen never raised the issue of Abu Hamza with him. "Not surprisingly," he said, "because my views and attitude in relation to this individual were very well known."
I am a proud owner of a copy of The Blunkett Tapes – My Life in the Bear Pit, which I have described here previously as ‘monumental (and monumentally boring)’ - unkind given that it was a find in Poundland. But to make amends I have retrieved the following passage from January 2003:
I was consulted on, and agreed to, the high-risk strategy of the raid on the Finsbury Park mosque which took place at around two a.m. on Monday 20 January. We had been talking about it during the latter part of the previous week, discussing what to do and how to do it and taking advice on handling it from the Anti-Terrorist Branch. … I also attacked Abu Hamza [imam at the Finsbury Park mosque] and all his works when answering questions on the Statement on the previous Wednesday lunchtime. We had been to-ing and fro-ing on this for months and I had been desperate to get across that political backing was there for any action that was needed. There was going to be no political correctness.  
In replaying my tapes, this all seems so close to home. In February 2006 Abu Hamza was convicted of inciting racial hatred and soliciting murder, and many questions were asked about how long he had been active in our country, what had happened over the years from the mid-1990s, what advice had been received and what support had been given by politicians.  
Much has to remain private. Suffice it to say that there were occasions, like any human being, when I got it wrong. With Abu Hamza, I did not. On the one hand I was defending the security services and SO13 - which any Home Secretary would do - and on the other I was creating mayhem inside the system to see if we could get something done (with Tony [Blair]'s wholehearted support). As will be seen, we were to change the law to withdraw citizenship from those with dual citizenship in order to ensure that we could remove them from the country - judges permitting - and three years on, Abu Hamza had managed to manipulate the legal system to continue appealing against my decision at the time he was convicted in the British courts. (pages 436,437)
“Much has to remain private” – perhaps more than we might ever think.

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