There are all sorts of reasons to gibber with anger at the Abu Qatada business. This is a man who came here illegally in 1993, and has used his time in our country to issue a series of revolting injunctions to his followers. He has called for the murder of any Algerian who converts from Islam – including their wives and children. He used one of his Finsbury Mosque sermons to propose the killing of all Jews, and followed this up by suggesting that his admirers should not only kill Americans, but British people as well.
That’s right, folks. Of all the countries in the world he could have blessed with his presence, of all the places he could have picked to bring up a family, he chose little old us – and now he wants us all dead. That’s gratitude, eh? It would be lovely to pretend that no one listens to this raving. But innocent Algerians did indeed have their throats cut; and his sermons were found in the possession of the late Mohammad Atta, who led the 9/11 suicide mission; and the tragic reality is that his exhortations, with their nauseating veneer of theological authority, are the legitimating voice in the minds of the poor, sad and deluded people who commit murder in the name of Islamic extremism. There is no reason whatever why he should not go for trial in Jordan, where he is wanted for his role in encouraging the bombing of a hotel in Amman.
As even the judges of the Strasbourg European Court of Human Rights have conceded, he is at no risk of torture when he gets there. No matter that he has egged on murder and mayhem, his own human rights would be fully respected, just as they have been observed, for the last 20 years, with all the punctilio of the British judicial system. And yet we are told that we cannot send him back, because there is a risk that some of the evidence at his trial may – may – be tainted, in the sense that it may – may – have been extracted from other witnesses by the use of torture. Even if this is so (and the Jordanians vehemently deny it, of course), it is not clear to me how this would amount to an abuse of Qatada’s own human rights.
Some people, such as the excellent Dominic Raab MP, are concerned that the Strasbourg court is expanding its remit, and some people are enraged by the spectacle of them bossing us around. After all, they say, we more or less invented the post-war concept of human rights in Europe. Our judges have decided that his rights would not be infringed – and now we are told what to do as if we were some kind of banana republic. But what gets me is not so much the outrage to common sense, grievous though that is. It’s the expense of the whole thing. This fellow has never worked in this country; of course not.
He has never contributed to the UK economy, never paid a penny of tax; and yet he has cost at least £500,000 in benefits and other payments, and the bill is set to soar. In tough economic times, Abu Qatada represents a completely mad and unnecessary expense for the police – and a throwback to an era of public-sector waste. I am proud to say that London is now one of the safest big cities in the world. Since May 2008, robbery has fallen by about 18 per cent, crime on buses is down 30 per cent, and crime overall is down more than 10 per cent. That’s not bad going for a recession.
In case you think I am fudging the figures, let me point out that you can’t easily hide a corpse, and the murder rate is down 25 per cent over the past four years. By this May, there will be about 1,000 more warranted officers on the streets of the capital than there were four years ago, and a million more patrols every year – and the police have achieved this in the face of the tightest public sector squeeze in memory. We have done it by cutting vast amounts of the waste that was the hallmark of the last administration.
Human resources departments have been amalgamated. Buildings have been sold or let. The grace and favour flat of the last Met Commissioner is being sold off, and Bernard Hogan-Howe is looking to make further savings in his plan to deploy even more officers on “total policing” of the city. And so it is utterly infuriating to discover that someone like Abu Qatada will now require round-the-clock surveillance in London. I am not giving away any operational secrets if I say that this means three eight-hour shifts employing 20 officers each. In other words, a full 24 hours of surveillance means that at least 60 officers are diverted to allow the fellow to go to the shop or the mosque or whatever he wants to do in his time outside his house.
Then there is the continuing housing cost and general benefit support for him and his family, a family that seems to have mysteriously expanded during the years he was supposed to have been incarcerated. Then there is the vast bill for his lawyers, and his appeals, all of which must be funded by the taxpayer. And then there are all the others who must get the same treatment, like Abu Hamza, who is also likely to come out on bail.
It is an industry, and in its profligacy it is all so pre-crisis. We got into all sorts of bad habits during the debt-fuelled boom. Government, not least the last semi-loony government of London, wasted spectacular sums on nonsense of all kinds – and we cannot afford to go back to that mentality.
This is a man who came to this country illegally. He has preached hate and violence. By common consent, he is at no risk of torture in Jordan; indeed he is guaranteed a fair trial. It is lunacy to waste police time on allowing him and his family to use taxpayers’ money to go shopping in London. He should be given a one-way ticket back, in steerage.