A former soldier from Wales has pleaded guilty to a terrorism offence after failing to reveal his mobile phone PIN to police.
Robert Clarke, a 23-year-old former Royal Artillery soldier from Carmarthenshire, pleaded guilty to obstructing a search under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000, according to the Press Association (via Wales Online).
Clarke had been arrested at Heathrow Airport in September as he tried to leave the UK to go and fight against Islamic State terrorists in Syria.
Police had been tipped off that he was using social media to tell world+dog that he wanted to go to Syria to fight Islamic State. Anti-terror cops tried to pressure him out of his plan, visiting him on four separate occasions.
He was stopped and searched, and then arrested, in September while waiting to board a flight to Jordan, from where he planned to join Kurdish anti-IS militants. Police seized his passport and phone and drove him back to Wales. A police statement from the time claimed that Clarke was arrested "on suspicion of terrorism offences".
While technically correct in a narrow sense, Clarke's offence was to obstruct a search carried out under the notorious Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 – not in itself a terrorist crime as ordinary people would recognise. He refused to give police the PIN to his iPhone, claiming that he used the fingerprint access method and that he couldn't remember the numerical PIN. A PIN he gave them allegedly did not work.
Clarke said that he planned to travel to "assist victims of war", though Crown prosecutor Louise Gray said his luggage included "military paraphernalia" and items with which to "defend himself with".
According to the Mail Online, Clarke told police at the airport: "I ain't telling you shit, charge me with perverting the court of justice, fuck your interview and fuck you."
He was reportedly remanded in custody after speaking out about his arrest and identifying himself, which caused a deluge of death threats from people claiming to be Islamist terrorists. This in turn led to a spell in solitary confinement in prison as his safety allegedly could not be guaranteed by guards.
The unemployed ex-soldier pleaded guilty to obstructing or frustrating a search, contrary to article 18(1) of schedule 7. He was handed a 12-month community service order, banned from leaving the UK for a year and ordered to complete 50 hours of unpaid work. In addition, Clarke was fined £85 for the government's victim surcharge fund. The maximum punishment available to the State under article 18 is three months' imprisonment or a fine of up to £2,500.
Sentencing him at Westminster Magistrates' Court yesterday, District Judge John Zani said: "I'm afraid, Mr Clarke, we live in difficult and potentially dangerous times and whatever frustration you felt has to be relaxed when you are asked to supply necessary information by the police officers merely doing their job."
Section 49 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act allows a whole host of state agencies to demand your password. Refusing to hand it over under that provision is also a criminal offence, albeit carrying far harsher penalties than obstructing a Schedule 7 search. Although section 49 was not invoked in Clarke's case, the use of the Terrorism Act offence is a neat way of ensuring the serious stigma of being convicted of a "terrorism offence" follows him round for the rest of his life. ®