Hassan Butt, the terror suspect at the centre of police attempts to seize journalists’ notes, was released by Greater Manchester Police yesterday after almost two weeks in custody.
Freelance journalist Shiv Malik, 27, from Golders Green, north London, continues his fight at the High Court today to overturn a production order made under the Terrorism Act compelling him to hand over notes and recorded interviews with Butt which are the basis of a forthcoming book called Leaving al-Qaeda.
The Sunday Times, Prospect magazine, CBS News and the BBC are to fight similar orders at a hearing in Manchester tomorrow (Friday).
The court heard yesterday that Butt was released at 2.50pm but Andrew Edis QC, representing Greater Manchester Police, said: ‘The investigation into Hassan Butt continues and there is no power to grant police bail under the Terrorism Act and therefore he should not be regarded as released without charge, but to say there is continuing interest in him.
‘The police do not have all the information they want because Mr Malik still has a lot of it.”
The court heard that the book’s publisher Constable & Robinson has handed over an early manuscript of Malik’s book to police – but police continue to seek notes and interviews.
Edis continued: ‘Mr Malik knew that police were in the process of investigating Hassan Butt and was well placed to know what stage that was at. Therefore Mr Malik was extremely familiar with the general nature of material the court is being asked to consider.”
Edis said: ‘Applications against media organisations are in my experience quite uncommon”.
He rejected the assertion made by Malik’s counsel James Eadie yesterday that the journalist was not given enough time to form a defence to the original production order, served at his home by Manchester Police on the morning of Friday 19 March, the Easter weekend, giving him two working days before a hearing at Manchester Crown Court on 25 March.
Edis made clear that although this case is a criminal one, Malik was not considered a suspect by police. ‘This production order procedure is designed for people that find themselves in possession of material that is of substantial value. It is not part of this procedure that that person is under suspicion,’he said.
Malik would still be allowed to publish his book, said Edis, if ordered to hand over his notes and he added that the information would ‘not be on the front page of the newspapers”.
A reporting restriction ordered by the judicial review panel of three judges, Lord Justice Dyson, Mr Justice Pitchford and Mr Justice Ouseley, bans the press from mentioning the reason police are interested in Butt except to say that his arrest is related to a forthcoming terror trial in September involving a man known only as A.
Malik’s counsel Eadie told the court the orders could have a ‘serious chilling effect’on journalism and urged the panel of judges to consider his rights under article 10 of the Human Rights Act, the right to freedom of expression and article six, the right to not self-incriminate.
The court heard yesterday that Malik fears for his safety and the safety of his sources if were forced to hand over his notes.