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Thursday, July 08, 2010 

If at first you don't succeed...

Congratulations are then in order to the Crown Prosecution Service and all the others responsible for the conviction of the last three men still on trial for their part in the liquid doom plot. After accepting at the conclusion of the first retrial that Ibrahim Savant, Arafat Waheed Khan and Waheed Zahman were not in fact aware that the ultimate target was supposed to be airplanes, it was decided that a second retrial, something extraordinarily rare, was needed to ensure that "the evidence was properly tested before a jury for a third time".

Whether or not if the jury had been unable to reach a verdict for a third time they would be now facing yet another retrial is something we'll never know. This seemed to be one of those cases, legitimately or not, where if the accused were found not guilty it wouldn't have just tarnished the justice system, but the establishment as a whole. After all, John Reid, then home secretary, now thankfully just another memory, declared immediately after the men had been arrested that "mass murder on an unimaginable scale" had been prevented. Since then, it's almost as if all the charges pursued against the men were secondary to proving that statement correct. It didn't help either that the disruption of the plot meant immediate changes to security regimes at airports across the world; if it subsequently turned out that those measures were ridiculously over-the-top, there were going to be some incredibly angry and influential businessmen out there.

Not that any of the trials have ever even began to prove that the supposed bombmaker, Assad Sarwar, was capable of creating the bombs which would have been used to destroy the aircraft they were going to target. Indeed, the prosecution made clear that wasn't a part of their case, even if it was scarcely reported; there was no evidence that a viable device had been created, just that "eventually" they would have been able to have done so, despite it taking the government's own experts 30 attempts with the same materials before they succeeded. Instead all have been tried simply on conspiracy to murder, even if they would have never been able to do so without working explosives. I'm struggling to recall cases where there hasn't just been one, but two retrials: Sion Jenkins, convicted of the murder of his foster daughter Billie Jo had the first verdict struck down as being unsafe and was retried twice with both juries failing to reach a verdict, finally being declared not guilty as the CPS decided not to try a third time, while John Twomey was convicted at the fourth time of asking in the first case to be heard by a judge sitting without a jury in 400 years, earlier juries having been dismissed over fears of tampering.

There has always been an air of unreality surrounding the liquid bomb cases, such has been the apparent incredulity on the behalf of the media that men who had shot "martyrdom videos" could possibly be anything other than guilty. As dubious as their claims have always been that they were simply part of a propaganda documentary highlighting supposed suspicions about young Muslim men (it's been suggested that some of the scenes in Four Lions featuring the men recording theirs were somewhat based on the out-takes from these), it's not beyond reason that they would have later backed out of taking part, if indeed any plot would ever have succeeded. Some of the extra evidence provided that they were preparing to kill themselves and potentially hundreds of others varied from having bought "materials" for the bomb factory, that Savant had applied for a third passport despite already having two valid ones, and Zaman had emptied his ISA savings account, the last apparently highly incriminating behaviour.

This jury however was convinced, and that's all that matters. This was after all, as the police were at pains to stress, "the strongest terrorism case ever presented to a court" and even if it took three tries, that was eventually vindicated, even if they had to drop the charge that these three men knew it was airplanes they were going to be blowing up. And regardless of the doubts, if these three men were prepared to kill on such a grand scale simply because of the extremist religious ideology which they had adopted, then there is only place for them. It will though be interesting to see just how long the sentences are when they're imposed on Monday, as the ringleaders were given terms of 36 and 32 years. Anything substantially less than those and we might well have an indication of how dangerous they are now viewed as.

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