Tuesday 5 January 2010

They lie to you: Jack Straw and secret inquests

After the conclusion of the second "7/7 helpers" trial in April 2009 (which, like the first, failed to convict anyone of conspiring to produce the explosions in London on July 7th 2005), there was no reason for the inquests into the deaths in those incidents to be delayed any longer. But further delayed they were.

At the time, the Coroners and Justice Bill was passing through parliament. It made provision to hold inquests in secret, without a jury, just as the previous year's Counter Terrorism Bill had. At the committee stage in the Commons, the secret inquest clause was retained by a single vote thanks to the abstention of the leader of the Scottish Nationalists, Angus Robertson. Coincidentally, the government had just agreed to an amendment to permit inquests of Scottish military personnel to be held in Scotland.

The lack of cross party support did, though, eventually result in the government dropping the secret inquest clause, as it had done from the previous Counter Terrorism Bill. At least, that is the impression that Jack Straw gave to everyone.

But as well as removing the clause, the government went on to add others that re-introduced secret inquests. In fact, Andrew Dismore MP (Labour) said that the new proposals were worse, and David Howarth MP (Liberal Democrat) that they were in many respects worse, when the government finally forced them through.

During the final debate in the Commons, Jack Straw was insistent in his replies to his own backbenchers (Graham Allen and Robert Marshall-Andrews) that the new secret inquest provision would only apply to a single outstanding inquest, namely that of Azelle Rodney. Mr Marshall-Andrews replied that if this was the case "The disproportionate remedy in the circumstances is obvious to everybody."

Although it was obvious to everybody that Jack Straw was misleading parliament (indeed the whole debacle was described as a procedural farce), it was confirmed beyond doubt a few days later when arrangements for the inquests into those who died on July 7th 2005 were announced, and the Guardian informed us that:

Jack Straw, the justice secretary, has said the government wants the option of a secret inquest when evidence of what the security services knew about the bombers is heard.

The fact that all progress on these 56 inquests was blocked while secret inquests were not lawful, and yet as soon as secret inquests became law plans were put in motion to hold them, strongly suggests that they (rather than the Azelle Rodney case) were the true targets of the secret inquest provision, and that Jack Straw was not being truthful when he claimed again and again that the Rodney case was the only one that would be affected.

Aside from the secret aspect, the arrangements being made leave much to be desired.

A judge has been appointed who has never conducted an inquest before, and who has not read the Coroners and Justice Act.

The inquests of the alleged perpetrators are being combined with the others, causing offence to some of the relatives of the victims. This may have the effect (intentional or otherwise) of intimidating or embarrassing the relatives of the alleged perpetrators into not pursuing matters too vigourously. A suicide verdict requires evidence beyond reasonable doubt that the individual intended to take his own life, and one parent has expressed publicly his view that he has not seen such evidence.

The bereaved families are likely to be denied public funding for legal representation at the inquests, but the Metropolitan Police, a public body, will have legal representation even though there is no obvious reason why it needs it in these cases.

Even now, the inquests are scheduled for autumn 2010, with no explanation for the further delay.

To echo Ludicrous Diversion, if 7/7 happened the way they said it did, what is the reason for all these machinations?