‘Birmingham Four’ ask CCRC to investigate convictions for terror plot

“It’s 40 years since the Birmingham and Guildford pub bombings … and the question that gets asked [is]: ‘Could you imagine this [a police stitch-up] ever happening again?’ My reply is that it already has. This is the case in which it happened.”

The case referred to by Gareth Peirce, who represented the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four, was that of four Muslim men, who she is also acting for, jailed for life for planning a terrorist attack on UK soil after an elaborate undercover operation.

In 2016, officers set up a fake delivery company – Hero Couriers – to snare Khobaib Hussain, who, like two others of the so-called Birmingham Four, had a previous terror-related conviction. When, a month after he had been recruited, Operation Pesage had not yielded results, officers recruited his friend, Naweed Ali.

Khobaib Hussain. Photograph: Supplied

On Ali’s first day, MI5 officers, there to place a bug in his car, discovered a bag under the seat containing a “partially constructed” pipe bomb, suspected handgun and meat cleaver with “kafir” scratched on to it.

Ali, Hussain, Mohibur Rahman, and Tahir Aziz were convicted after a 2017 trial, during which four terrorist attacks occurred in England. They have just applied to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) in the hope that it will investigate their convictions and ultimately refer them back to the court of appeal.

Their barrister, Stephen Kamlish KC, said: “Just imagine you take a terrorist kit to your first day to work, I mean, you don’t know where you’re going, you don’t know what you’re gonna be doing that day and what’s gonna happen to your own car [employees drove ‘Hero Couriers’ vans] and then give your keys to your employer.”

“Vincent”, an undercover officer working for West Midlands’ “special projects team”, regularly parked the employees’ cars inside for them, including Ali’s on that day, and at the men’s trial Kamlish accused him of planting the bag.

Just before MI5 arrived, Vincent texted his boss: “They have just told me this is an intel-only search … BSS [British security service] will look and photograph anything but they can’t copy anything or forensically analyse anything.”

Tahir Aziz. Photograph: Supplied

After the discovery, Vincent and another officer ignored orders to leave the depot and moved the bag to another room. “Why would you do that unless you knew it was a safe bag?” asked Kamlish. Vincent then examined the bag’s contents, recording what he was seeing, voicing that the handgun was possibly real. He called his boss, according to their notes, saying it was an air pistol, which it proved to be.

Giving evidence from behind a curtain in court, Vincent ridiculed the idea that he had planted anything. He said the bag containing the pipe bomb had already been taken out of the car so it was a “calculated risk” to move it again and denied telling his boss it contained an air pistol.

Another officer gave evidence that Vincent’s fingerprints had been tested against unknown DNA found on the incriminating bag – the defendants’ DNA was absent – but later corrected himself saying Vincent’s prints were not on the national database. Kamlish’s request that they be tested was rejected.

An imitation handgun with an empty magazine strapped to it that was found in Naweed Ali’s car. Photograph: West Midlands Police/PA

Deep into the trial, prosecutors said Hussain’s DNA had been found on tape attaching a magazine to the pistol. Four weeks after the arrests, Vincent had sent a text message to a colleague saying: “It’s a sticky tape story,” with a winking emoji.

The Birmingham Four’s lawyers suggest the tape could have been pressed against the steering wheel of the car Hussain drove to work or tissues in its glove compartment, as his sister’s DNA also featured heavily (it was her vehicle). Vincent and his boss – a fellow witness – also met up and contacted each other during the trial but denied discussing the case.

Kamlish said: “In a normal trial, in my very long experience if one thing like this happens … the prosecution will stop the case or you get acquitted … but, of course, it didn’t happen. These kinds of things just went on and on and on.”

The contemporaneity of Vincent’s notebook was challenged in court because the entries were all written by the same fountain pen, according to Kamlish, and a text to Vincent from his boss sent six days after the arrests stated: “We have agreed … that you will write your pocketbook for Pesage, not type.” The officers denied that evidence had been falsified.

The four men pictured walking in a park five days before their arrests. Photograph: West Midlands Police/PA

In the absence of CCTV footage of the bag or – before the sticky tape emerged – forensic evidence, prosecutors focused on the accused’s mindset, including messages said to demonstrate extremist ideology, although this was disputed by the defence.

The convictions were also cited. Ali and Hussain were jailed after travelling to Pakistan to attend a training camp, although they returned when, the sentencing judge said, “you realised what a shocking mistake you had made”. Rahman spent time in prison accused of possession of a publication with terrorist content.

Mohibur Rahman. Photograph: Supplied

Hussain’s sister, Mariam, who has been supported in raising awareness by the Muslim advocacy group Cage, said: “It’s eight years now and it’s not easy.” At an all-party parliamentary group on miscarriages of justice event last week, she read out a letter from her brother which said: “Sometimes I think, how did this all happen in the UK, a state who talks about human rights abuses?”

Peirce urged the CCRC to investigate the police, using its “absolute power to go in anywhere, to look at anything”.

In a statement given to the Justice Gap, which first revealed the CCRC application, West Midlands police said that the men were unanimously found guilty. Mr Justice Openshaw denied them permission to appeal and flagged the judgment of Lord Justice Holroyde in the court of appeal in 2018, stating: “We have considered whether anything put before us casts doubt on the safety of the convictions. We are satisfied that there is nothing that does so. The jury by their verdicts plainly rejected that the evidence had been planted. Having done so there was ample circumstantial evidence against each of the accused to support the convictions.”


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.