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September 9, 2009

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UK needsto accept intercept evidence

THE case against an al-Qaida gang that plotted to bring down trans-Atlantic aircraft proves that wiretaps and other intercept evidence should be allowed in British courts, Britain's former chief prosecutor said yesterday.

Three British Muslims were convicted on Monday of plotting to murder thousands by downing planes using liquid explosives hidden in soda bottles.

The investigation involved one of the biggest and most expensive surveillance operations in British history. But it took two trials to secure convictions because juries could not be told of all the evidence against the men.

A jury at an earlier trial last year could not decide whether the defendants had plotted to blow up aircraft. The second trial introduced new evidence, including e-mails between the plotters and contacts in Pakistan that were provided by the United States.

Britain is one of the few countries to bar the use of evidence from intercepted personal phone calls, e-mails, letters and faxes. Intelligence agencies have resisted attempts to allow such evidence, fearing it would expose their techniques to public scrutiny.

Such evidence is used effectively in many countries, including the US, said Ken Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions.

It is "the best evidence you can have, people convicting themselves out of their own mouths," he told the BBC.


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