The detention, this week, of David Miranda at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act should send a shiver through every right thinking citizen of the UK. It probably won’t because most people are too busy trying to keep their jobs and keep their heads above water than to worry about remote legislation that they don’t think will ever affect them.
However, it is clear to me that this legislation is being routinely misused by the authorities. How do I know? Because I was on the receiving end a couple of years ago. Here is what I wrote to my MP at the time; it seems pretty prophetic in view of this weeks events.
More recently (September 2010) I travelled to Cork via Swansea Ferry terminal. As I queued, in my vehicle, to get on the ferry I was stopped by port security under the provisions of The Ship and Port Facility (Security) Regulations 2004 and was asked by the member of staff where I was going. Resisting the impulse to laugh out loud (as the Irish Ferry was moored 500 metres away and there was no where else to go) I asked him was he sure he had the power to ask me that question and under what legislation was he asking it. He clearly did not have a clue as to what powers he might have. At that stage he detained me before fetching a Police Officer who questioned me under the Terrorism Act before letting me proceed.
On my return I had subsequent correspondence (with a very reluctant Ian Meredith Port Facilities & Security Manager, ABP South Wales Ports) with AB Ports Swansea. At first he claimed that the above legislation gave powers to question travellers about their journey, when pressed he had to admit that he had no such powers. But he has stated in writing that he cannot guarantee that it will not happen again. As I understand it the Security staff at the port are actually private contractors. So in this instance a private citizen going about their legal business is detained by a private contractor who has no power to do so, asked a ludicrous question about their private travel arrangements and then after being detained is questioned by a Police officer under the terrorism legislation. The irony is exquisite in that the law abiding citizen is questioned because of the failure of security staff to work within the law as it exists. It is astonishing that such intrusive questions are being asked by private contractors.
I hope that it is as apparent to you, as it is to me that we are ‘sleepwalking’ into a Police State. As a citizen of a free democratic society I should be able to go about my life without the state asking (and possibly) recording details of where I am going to and from. I accept that there are circumstances where further enquiries are necessary and in this case questions should only be asked where they are necessary and proportionate.