Michael Olumide Adebolajo and Michael Oluwatobi Adebowale have been found guilty of the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby, whilst being acquitted of the attempted murder of a police officer. The trial has almost reached its conclusion at the Old Bailey, which witnessed massive media interest. The men are due to be sentenced in January 2014.
The trial has raised many interesting questions, ranging from the issue of delivering a fair trial, which I briefly remarked upon in my last post, to wider concerns such as the ‘radicalisation’ of British citizens and the supposed security blunders by British security services. Additionally, an investigation into the actions of the attending police officers who shot and wounded both men has concluded that they ‘acted appropriately to the immediate threat’.
The judge in the case, Mr. Justice Sweeney, has delayed the sentencing of the duo until January next year. This is due to the fact that a significant appeal ruling on the legality of whole-life sentences is expected in January.
The issue of whole-life sentences has been a major policy concern for British law-makers for many years, and has even reached the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In July 2013, the ECtHR declared that the life without parole sentences passed upon Jeremy Bamber and two others convicted of multiple murders were a breach of human rights. The judges ruled by 16 to one that there had to be a review of the sentence and the possibility of a release. This was in order to satisfy an individual’s right to be protected against inhuman and degrading treatment, prohibited under Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act 1998.
The judgment has put further strain on the relationship between the Strasbourg court and Downing Street. From matters of deportation concerning radical clerics, to voting rights for prisoners, and now matters of life sentencing, the relations between the two have never been more fragile. The pros and cons of issuing life sentences without the possibility of parole raises many important questions. For example, for what crimes should such a punishment be possible? Is such a punishment an affront to the principle of rehabilitation? Does such a punishment incentivise bad behaviour and escape when parole may result in good behaviour and genuine remorse?
On another level, the security services of the United Kingdom have faced a grilling, as both individuals were known prior to their grave crime in Woolwich. Frank Gardner, the BBC security correspondent has helpfully reflected:
‘How did the police and MI5 miss the Woolwich murderers' switch from legitimate activism to violent jihad? This is one of the key questions being looked at by Parliament's intelligence and security committee, which is expected to report its findings in the new year.
The short answer is prioritisation. Adebolajo made little secret of his extremist leanings and he was clearly 'an individual of interest' to both the Metropolitan Police and the security services, but he was not considered to be planning any attacks.
Many will point to warning signs that suggest they should have paid closer attention to him - he was radicalised by the now-banned group Al-Muhajiroun, and in 2010 he was arrested in Kenya trying to reach Somalia to join Al-Shabaab, the group that this year attacked Nairobi's Westgate mall.
But speaking ahead of the trial - and perhaps predicting some tough questions to come - MI5's director general Andrew Parker defended his organisation's record, saying: "Being on our radar does not necessarily mean being under our microscope." ’
The effectiveness of counter-terrorism measures in the United Kingdom will continue to dominate security discourse. In an earlier post, I reflected upon the mechanisms that are currently deployed by the security services to monitor suspected terror offenders. Depending on the findings by the Intelligence and Security Committee early next year, it is easily foreseeable that pressure will mount for Parliament to introduce more stringent and robust measures to combat terrorism.
As a final remark, the unwillingness of leading British politicians to seriously address the real root causes of such crimes is an alarming phenomenon, poisoning the entire political paradigm. Whether it be the 2011 summer riots, in which looters were dismissively branded as ‘opportunistic thugs’, to contemporary terror crimes such as the murder of Lee Rigby, where any notion that such an offence is a response to Western foreign policy is arrogantly brushed aside, the leaders of Western countries quite simply show no desire to consider the underlying causes. Whenever such brutal, public and shocking crimes occur, there inevitably follows a whole variety of issues to address. Some have been briefly reflected upon, in this and my previous post. Whereas we all too frequently and efficiently focus on the how and what next, the (more important) next step is surely to go further and address the why.
--Ben Stanford is a doctoral candidate at the University of Bedfordshire studying Terrorism and Human Rights.--