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One-month detention could become inadequate -MPs

Written by: Staff

LONDON, July 3 (Reuters) Powers to hold terrorist suspects without charge for 28 days might need to be extended in the future, although not to the 90 days police want, MPs said today.

But the all-party Home Affairs Committee argued such a move had to be handled tactfully to avoid upsetting British Muslims - already complaining of feeling under siege - and should not be introduced by the back door of secondary legislation.

''The growing number of cases and the increase in suspects monitored by the police and security services make it entirely possible, and perhaps increasingly likely, that there will be cases that do provide that justification,'' it said in a report.

''We therefore believe that the 28-day limit may well prove inadequate in the future,'' it added.

The committee report came as police stepped up security in the run-up to the first anniversary of the four suicide bomb attacks on the London transport system on July 7 that killed 52 people and injured hundreds more.

''We are convinced that the nature of the threat has changed, and so therefore has the response,'' said committee chairman and Labour parliamentarian John Denham.

''Earlier arrest, which means longer detention, is serving an important new function in disrupting and preventing terrorism.'' Endorsing the 28-day pre-charge detention period but rejecting the 90-day proposal, the committee said any extension would have to be carefully considered by an independent body and that each case must be scrutinised.

A revolt by Labour members of parliament last November torpedoed Prime Minister Tony Blair's bid to force through a new law allowing police to hold a terrorism suspect for up to three months without charge, limiting it instead to one month.

Police and the government want to increase that period.

''We made the case for 90 days and our view about the need for that period has not changed,'' Blair's spokesman said today.

He also rejected criticism from the committee that the government had been ill prepared when it proposed the 90-day law and that it had never critically examined the case made by the police in the wake of the July 7 attacks.

''On an issue like this, the trust and confidence of the public and the Muslim community specifically is absolutely crucial. We cannot afford divisive arguments,'' Denham said.

''Any new legislation should not propose longer than 28 days' detention unless the evidence is compelling, and we propose a new independent body to keep this under review,'' he added.

The committee proposed that banned telephone tap evidence should be allowed in terrorism cases, and that in cases where preventative measures were necessary but charges not possible other avenues should be explored.

It supported the use of control orders, tagging and bail to disrupt conspiracies and protect the public.

Reuters SHR VV1847

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