08/18/2006

British terror plot suspects interrogated in high-security police station

By BETH GARDINER
Associated Press Writer

LONDON- In the windowless interrogation rooms of London's high-security Paddington Green police station, detectives are questioning suspects in the alleged plot to bring down as many as 10 trans-Atlantic airliners.

The gray concrete building, whose detention areas extend deep underground, has often been at the center of terrorism investigations.

With 23 suspects in custody and nearly 50 locations being searched, police are focusing on gathering enough evidence to press charges within the 28 days allowed by law, said Charles Shoebridge, a former counterterrorism officer with London's Metropolitan Police.

That limit for terror suspects was doubled from 14 days after the July 2005 bombings on London's transit system.

Shoebridge said police are likely following to the letter the laws governing treatment of detainees _ giving them three meals a day and allowing at least eight hours sleep - to ensure that no future trials will be jeopardized by claims that any testimony was coerced.

But lawyers for those who have been held at Paddington Green say it's a grim environment that has left many detainees permanently traumatized.

Police often delay for days the required disclosure of evidence to the suspects and the reasons for their arrest, said Louise Christian, a human rights lawyer who often represents terrorism suspects.

"It creates enormous psychological pressure for the person being held because they don't know why they're there," she said.

Detention at the station was grueling several years ago when the maximum pre-charge detention period was seven days, and is intolerable now that suspects can be held for 28 days, said Gareth Peirce, who represents one of the suspects in the alleged jetliner plot.

"The cells are like old Victorian lavatories, airless with tiled walls and are either too hot or too cold, depending on the season," she said. "It's like being in a dentist's waiting room, locked in and not able to get out - just endless waiting and a sense of fear and isolation."

In a report published this month, the Council of Europe's anti-torture committee said conditions at Paddington Green were inadequate for prolonged periods of detention. The committee, which has unlimited access to detention centers in Europe, said some of the suspects detained there had complained of ill-treatment and that outside exercise was not offered to inmates every day.

Paddington Green was designed to confront the Irish Republican Army threat, and for many years was used for the interrogation of top IRA suspects. It became a target in 1992, when the IRA blew up a phone booth outside the station, wounding one person.

London's Metropolitan Police declined to comment on procedures at the station or even to confirm that the terror plot suspects are there. Many of the 23 arrested last week in the alleged terror plot are believed to be at Paddington Green. As it does not have enough high-security cells for so many people, some have been sent to other holding centers.

Those being held in the airline terror case have likely had access to their lawyers by now and are regularly given halal food and time to pray, Shoebridge said.

The suspects are probably interviewed once or twice a day for a maximum of two hours at a time, he said.

Police - who are awaiting physical evidence from searches at 49 sites - will likely focus their questioning on suspects' identities, the relationships among them and their movements over the past few months, he said.

They'll seek explanations from the men - and at least one woman also arrested in the plot - for any suspicious items they find in their homes and whatever evidence led to their arrests, he said.

E-mails, financial information, physical evidence, closed circuit TV footage and the contents of computer hard drives are all likely to be key to the investigation, Shoebridge said.

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