Brown to double time of terror plot detentions to 56 days


Last updated at 00:47 26 October 2007

The Prime Minister yesterday signalled the Government will seek to double to 56 days the length of time a terror suspect can be held without charge.

Gordon Brown said he had to make hard choices to fight terrorism and avoid 'the politics of gesture'.

But the Tories said there was 'not a shred of evidence' to support the move, which comes only two years after Labour suffered a crushing defeat over plans for a 90-day limit.

In his speech to Liberty, Mr Brown said: 'To ignore the duty to protect the people and avoid hard choices is the politics of gesture.

'Terrorism can today strike anywhere and any time. The very freedoms we have built up over generations are the freedoms terrorists most want to destroy.'

Mr Brown did not state the 56-day figure publicly, but aides let it be known it is Number 10's favoured option.

Critics will view it as a 'softening-up' exercise, preparing the public to accept the figure when legislation is tabled later this year.

Liberty and the Conservatives have proposed allowing terror suspects to be held for up to 58 days, but only once Parliament has declared a state of emergency. Otherwise, the 28-day limit would remain.

Ministers will say this shows a willingness to debate a new limit.

They are also likely to claim it proves even their strongest critics accept 28 days is not enough.

David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary, said the Tories would 'look carefully' at an extension if there was evidence to support it.

But he added there was 'not one shred of evidence' to back an increase to 56 days.

He went on: 'Gordon Brown has promised to "write the next chapter" in British liberty.

'It would be a tragedy if this chapter proved to be an ill-thought through, politically motivated, curbing of the liberties that thousands, if not millions, of British citizens have died to defend.'

In evidence to MPs earlier this week, Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, declared the 'time is right' for an extension to the limit and that she expected legislation to be unveiled before Christmas.

She admitted there had not yet been a single case where longer than the 28-day limit had been required.

But she added: 'We are making a case on what I believe to be the increasing complexity, the increasing international links, the increasing challenge of the investigation of the plots that are in place.'

The Government suffered a crushing defeat in November 2005 when ministers tried to introduce a 90-day limit for holding terror suspects.

Instead, they managed only to raise the limit from 14 to 28 days.

Home Office sources insisted Miss Smith has yet to make up her mind on what the new limit would be, and said she wants to consult fully with the opposition parties.

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