A Nottingham University student who was arrested on suspicion of terrorism offences in 2008 has been paid £20,000 in compensation. Rizwaan Sabir, who was a masters student at the University, downloaded a document titled “The Al Qaeda Training Manual” from a US Government website as part of his postgraduate research. Mr Sabir emailed this manual along with other publicly available documents to Hicham Yezza, a member of staff at the University who was helping him draft his PhD application. When this was discovered by University officials, both were arrested and detained for six days under the Terrorism Act 2000, before being released without charge.
Yesterday it was confirmed that as well as a £20,000 settlement, Mr Sabir’s legal fees will also be covered by Nottinghamshire Police. Mr Sabir said, “For more than three years, I have been fighting to clear my name and establish that the police were wrong to arrest me and put me through the tortuous experience I suffered at their hands. I have finally succeeded in doing so, and they have been forced to account for the wrong they did to me. But I am one of the lucky ones. I cannot forget all those other innocent people like me who have suffered at the hands of the police but do not have the chance or means to vindicate their names.”
Mr Sabir brought proceedings against Nottinghamshire Police for breaches of the Race Relations Act 1976, the Human Rights Act 1998, and for false imprisonment. In a statement, Nottinghamshire Police said, “We stand by the fact that the arrest, detention and obtaining of a warrant of further detention were all perfectly legal, proportionate and necessary in the circumstances, as they were in 2008. The matter was settled without admission of liability save that the force admitted that one brief search of Mr Sabir and his vehicle, carried out in February 2010, was the result of a mistaken belief on the part of the officers involved. This was admitted in November 2010 and the force apologises for this search. Given that all litigation carries with it a risk, this modest monetary settlement was viewed as a sensible way of keeping overall costs to a minimum.” A further claim under the Data Protection Act 1998 opposed false information on police records that stated Mr Sabir has been convicted of a terrorist offence. Regarding this claim, Nottinghamshire Police said that they had agreed to amend some of the records held on Mr Sabir.
Mr Sabir’s solicitor, Michael Oswald of Bhatt Murphy, said, “Clearly the police have a difficult and important job to do in their counter terrorism role, however, they must nonetheless act within the law and must be held to account when they do not.”
Earlier this year, the University’s role in the case came under renewed scrutiny when Dr Rod Thornton, a Nottingham University lecturer, was suspended for publishing a whistle-blowing article that criticised the University’s handling of the situation. An open letter signed by 67 global academics was sent to The Guardian to say that they were “deeply concerned” by the suspension and demanded a “full and proper inquiry”. In response to the protests subsequently held in support of Dr Thornton, the University released a statement which said that academic freedom was “not the freedom to defame your coworkers and attempt to destroy their reputations as honest, fair and reasonable individuals”.
Following Mr Sabir’s compensation, the University of Nottingham stated that “this is a matter between the police and Rizwaan Sabir, who has not been a student at the University since he completed his studies here in September 2009.”