POLICE BUGGING INQUIRY – Labour MP spied on as he met US extradition target

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July 2006 mass picket against the threat to extradite Babar Ahmad to the United States
July 2006 mass picket against the threat to extradite Babar Ahmad to the United States

Justice secretary Jack Straw has had to order an inquiry into claims that police bugged Tooting Labour MP Sadiq Khan as he visited a friend and constituent in jail.

It was alleged yesterday that Khan and Babar Ahmad, who is fighting extradition to the US to face trumped-up charges, were recorded twice in Woodhill Prison, Milton Keynes.

The bugging is said to have been carried out by officers from the Metropolitan Police anti-terrorist branch during visits by Khan to the jail in 2005 and 2006.

Khan and Ahmad had been discussing sensitive personal and legal matters.

The bugging device was hidden inside a hollowed-out table in the prison’s main visiting hall.

The House of Commons home affairs committee will investigate the allegations as part of their inquiry into whether the UK is becoming a ‘surveillance society’.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz MP said that if the allegations were true they would take the surveillance society into an ‘entirely new dimension’.

Straw, who was informed of the allegations on Saturday, said: ‘It is completely unacceptable for an interview to be conducted by an MP on a constituent matter or in any other issue to be recorded.’

Computer operator Ahmad faces no charges in the UK, but the US is seeking to extradite him on suspicion of running websites raising funds for the Taleban, a charge he has consistently denied.

A spokesperson for Babar Ahmad’s family said: ‘It is outrageous what has happened, that the authorities felt the need to bug an innocent welfare visit by his MP.

‘We would like an investigation to be carried out to get to the bottom of this kind of misconduct.’

Tooting MP Khan, who is also a government whip, has been campaigning for Babar Ahmad to be released.

Khan said in a BBC interview yesterday: ‘Clearly I’m concerned. And that’s why I’m pleased that the Secretary of State for Justice Jack Straw, as soon as he heard about these allegations yesterday, has ordered an enquiry.’

He added that he is ‘keen to find out whether the allegations are true, because the implications clearly are quite serious’.

International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander said the allegations were ‘extremely serious’.

He told the BBC: ‘I think there will be deep concern on all sides of the House of Commons if these allegations prove to be founded.’

It is believed that no politicians were involved in any decision to bug Khan’s conversations and that concerns about the matter had been raised by staff at Woodhill Prison.

The bugging of MPs by police has been barred since 1966.

A principle was established by the Wilson Labour government, following a series of eavesdropping scandals, that conversations between constituents and their MPs should be confidential.

A number of Labour MPs have reacted angrily to the revelations.

Birmingham Perry Barr MP, Khalid Mahmood, said: ‘It’s very regrettable. This Member of Parliament deserves the respect which he has been given by his constituents.

‘If he felt there was an issue of national interest Mr Khan himself would have made police aware. It is the wrong way for police to act.’

Thurrock MP Andrew McKinlay said it was ‘wholly unacceptable’ for MPs to be under surveillance.