One of Britain's most senior police officers has demanded a return to a form of internment, with the power to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without charge.
The proposal, put forward by the head of the Association of Police Chief Officers (Acpo) and supported by Scotland Yard, is highly controversial. An earlier plan to extend the amount of time suspects can be held without charge to 90 days led to Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as Prime Minister. Eventually, the government was forced to compromise on 28 days, a period which Gordon Brown has already said he wants to extend.
The Observer understands that the Acpo proposal has been discussed in meetings between Brown and senior police officers. Whitehall sources said the PM was receptive to the association's demands, but believes an upper detention limit is essential to avoid a de facto Guantanamo Bay based in the UK.
Ken Jones, the president of Acpo, told The Observer that in some cases there was a need to hold terrorist suspects without charge for 'as long as it takes'. He said such hardline measures were the only way to counter the complex, global nature of terrorist cells planning further attacks in Britain and that civil liberty arguments were untenable in light of the evolving terror threat.
Jones, a former chair of Acpo's counter-terrorism committee, said: 'We are now arguing for judicially supervised detention for as long as it takes. We are up against the buffers on the 28-day limit. We understand people will be concerned and nervous, but we need to create a system with sufficient judicial checks and balances which holds people, but no longer than a day [more than] necessary.
'We need to go there [unlimited detention] and I think that politicians of all parties and the public have great faith in the judiciary to make sure that's used in the most proportionate way possible.'
The proposal has provoked anger among civil rights groups. 'It is coming to the point when we have to ask serious questions about the role of Acpo in a constitutional democracy,' said Shami Chakrabarti, director of the civil rights group Liberty. 'We elect politicians to determine legislation and we expect chief constables to uphold the rule of law, not campaign for internment.' Internment was last used in Britain during the Gulf war against Iraqis suspected of links to Saddam Hussein's army. It has also been used against terrorist suspects in Northern Ireland and Germans during the Second World War.