Reid reopens case for 90-day detention

The home secretary has urged cabinet ministers to consider increasing the time terror suspects can be held without charge, it has emerged.

John Reid has been discussing upping the 28-day limit with police and today put their case to the weekly cabinet meeting, where ministers agreed to look at the question again.

According to the prime minister’s official spokesman, Mr Reid believes “it is worth trying once again to convince parliament and the nation that going further would be a useful tool in the counter-terror effort”.

The announcement comes after nine people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 in Birmingham yesterday, following a series of police raids. Searches continue at 12 properties in the Sparkhill, Washwood Heath, Kingstanding and Edgbaston areas today.

Mr Reid acknowledged that the full 28-day detention period – which was only introduced last year, up from 14 days previously – had only been needed once so far. That was in the case of the alleged bomb plot at Heathrow airport last August.

But the spokesman said “it was quite possible to envisage circumstances where the police may need more than 28 days, because the scale of the terrorist threat is becoming larger and more complex, because the scale of operations is increasing and the amount of evidence is growing larger”.

The government originally wanted increase the time terror suspects can be held without charge from 14 days to 90, but this was reduced to 28 after 49 Labour MPs and opposition parties voted against it, giving Tony Blair his first Commons defeat.

Today Mr Reid told the cabinet he was “mindful of the need for balancing measures to reassure the public when introducing moves that could be perceived as an increase in arbitrary power”, and of the need to secure cross-party consensus on any changes.

But the spokesman said: “Given the continuing trend and experience over the last year, [the home secretary] now believes it is worth trying once again to convince parliament and the nation that going further would be a useful tool in the counter-terror effort.”

Shadow home secretary David Davis reacted cautiously to the news, saying the Tories would look at any new evidence for an extension of the pre-charge detention time, but warned that the terrorist alert yesterday was “not sufficient reason” in itself.

“All the evidence from the terrorist operation last August showed that the limit of 28 days did not prevent charging of a large number of suspects in the alleged terrorist plot,” he said.

Lib Dem home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg also warned that “overwhelming and concrete evidence” would be needed for parliament to revisit the issue, saying the 28-day limit had already stretched “long-established principles of due process”.

He argued: “A lack of police resources should not be used as an excuse to further breach the all-important principle that charges must be brought as quickly as possible.”

Shami Chakrabarti, director of pressure group Liberty, added: “We’ve had years of rough and ready anti-terror laws and we are not any safer.

“It’s time for a major rethink in government; for additional resources, intercept evidence and a look at the interviewing process. These measures won’t attract sexy headlines but this is about saving lives, not political careers.”