Retrial sought in Brit airline plot

September 10, 2008 10:27:27 AM PDT
British prosecutors said Wednesday they were seeking a retrial of seven men accused of plotting to down trans-Atlantic airliners using liquid explosives disguised as soft drinks. Britain's Crown Prosecution Service said it will ask a judge to formally authorize a second trial after a London jury failed to agree on charges specifically related to the alleged plan to bomb jetliners in 2006.

Jurors on Monday convicted three men on separate conspiracy to murder charges and acquitted an eighth man.

After the plot was announced, airports in the U.S. and Europe ground to a halt. New security precautions were imposed severely restricting the quantity of liquids in carry-on luggage - limits that remain in place today.

Britain's director of public prosecutions Ken Macdonald said the seven men will face new charges specifically related to an accusation they planned to explode bombs on board airliners.

"I have today concluded that the prosecution should apply to retry each of these defendants on every count that the recently discharged jury failed to agree upon," he said in a statement.

"This will include a count that each defendant conspired to detonate improvised explosive devices on trans-Atlantic passenger aircraft," Macdonald said.

Prosecutors must now make a formal application to the courts before any date for a new trial is set, but the case isn't likely to be heard until 2009.

Legal officials will review the case and decide whether there is any additional evidence that could be put before a jury in a future retrial.

"The bottom line is, we only seek a retrial when we believe there is the prospect of convictions based on the evidence we have," said a spokeswoman for Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, on condition of anonymity in line with policy.

But officials in both the U.S. and Britain have suggested the failure of the first trial could prompt changes in the U.K. approach to terrorism cases.

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Britain may reconsider a long-standing reluctance to use information from wiretaps or intercepts as evidence in court cases.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said in February that wiretap evidence should be used in future, but confirmed that all decisions on using the material will rest with Britain's intelligence agencies.

The agencies have long resisted the use of wiretap evidence in courts, fearing their surveillance methods could be divulged.

"We do use wiretaps, and in cases like this, particularly conspiracies, those tend to be actually the best evidence," Chertoff told the AP on Tuesday.

Chertoff said Britain will no doubt consider if it needs to make "some adjustments in their, you know, rules of evidence, to allow them to put in a broader range of evidence."