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Artillery Row

The publisher and the police

The case of Ernest Moret has drawn attention to a sinister abuse of power

The Met Police have paid a “substantial” five-figure sum to a left-wing French publisher after using Section 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop, arrest and interrogate him over his involvement with recent anti-government protests in Paris.

Ernest Moret, who works as a foreign-rights manager for the French publisher La Fabrique Éditions, was visiting the London Book Fair in April last year and had just arrived on the Eurostar from Paris when Met Police Border Policing Officers from SO15 (counterterrorism command) stopped him at St Pancras International Station. 

The Met used wide-reaching Schedule 7 powers, which enable police at ports to examine individuals entering or leaving the UK, in order to determine whether they are a terrorist (i.e., a person who, as per the Terrorism Act 2000, “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”), and without any grounds for suspicion. In Moret’s case, the decision to examine was exclusively a UK decision. 

Having invoked Schedule 7, officers were able to seize, search and retain Moret’s belongings, including his iPhone and laptop. When the publisher refused to hand over passwords to his iPhone and laptop — on the basis that it was a violation of his privacy — officers arrested him on suspicion of wilfully obstructing a Schedule 7 examination, and threatened him with never being able to travel overseas to see his family again. 

At the time, Moret’s employer and its British sister publisher, Verso Books, claimed that in interview under caution he was asked “some very disturbing questions”, including his views on pension reform in France, and whether he backed the French President, Emmanuel Macron.

Having been held for almost 24 hours, he was released on bail under investigation. 

The Met later announced Moret would face no further action, although they continued to hold onto his iPhone and laptop for more than 10 weeks. Moret’s lawyer, Richard Parry, was also subsequently informed that officers had downloaded data from the sim card on his phone.

On Monday, it emerged that the Met had settled a civil claim for misfeasance in a public office and false imprisonment without recourse to litigation, agreeing to pay Moret a “substantial” five-figure sum plus his legal fees. 

Parry has also now written to the Met commissioner, Mark Rowley, demanding an apology for Moret. “In our view the stop was neither necessary nor proportionate,” he said. “With the financial compensation settled it is now time for a full apology from the Met police.”

The Met’s decision to settle the case prior to litigation comes after a damning report by the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Jonathan Hall KC, which said the Met was wrong to invoke Schedule 7, and described as “exaggerated and overbearing” the interviewing officer’s claim that Moret would never again be able to travel internationally to see family members following his refusal to hand over device passwords.

Following publication of that report last July, the Met referred Moret’s arrest to the Independent Office of Police Conduct, where an investigation remains ongoing. 

In his report, Hall makes clear that Schedule 7 is an “exceptional” power that can only be used consistently with fundamental rights and freedoms where it is invoked for counter-terrorism purposes. It should, therefore, never be used for public order policing, “especially now that some leftwing and single-issue campaigners were the responsibility of counter-terrorist police”.

Moret’s case was precisely the type of “investigation into public order” for which counter-terrorism powerswere never intended to be used”, Hall said.

Part of the problem, both here and more generally, he continued, is that because Schedule 7 powers may be exercised without suspicion, “there remains the risk that it can be misused, wilfully or inadvertently”.

Hall concludes that officers involved in stopping Moret at St Pancras International could, and should, have “decided not to exercise the power”. It was, he says, like “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, not least because the police are able to use general common law and statutory powers to gather intelligence.

As to the fact Moret was known to have attended a demonstration in France at which violence had been used, Hall was unmoved.

It “does not follow” from an individual’s mere presence at such an event “that they were themselves not exercising their right of freedom to peaceful assembly”, he said. “Otherwise, the right of protest would be easily curtailed by the authorities.”

Later during the report he returned to this point, noting that “[t]he rights of free expression and protest are too important in a democracy to allow individuals to be investigated for potential terrorism merely because they may have been involved in protests that have turned violent.”

According to figures released under freedom of information laws, and seen by the Guardian, Moret was one of at least 4,525 foreign nationals to be stopped at UK ports from 2020 to 2023, under Schedule 7.

Of these, 1,432 citizens were from the UK’s allies in EU member states, including 334 Irish, 192 Dutch, 175 French, 99 Swedes and 94 Germans.

Kevin Blowe, campaigns coordinator at the police monitoring group Netpol described the figures as “genuinely alarming”, but not particularly surprising. “We know these powers are used for purposes other than investigating terrorism, including the targeting of political activists visiting Britain,” he said, adding: “The data does suggest that EU states are seeking the active help of British police to target their own citizens.”

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