Access but don't possess

Recall the recent case of Rizwaan Sabir, who was studying terrorism at the University of Nottingham and was arrested for possession of a 1,500 page al-Qaeda training manual which he downloaded from a public US government website with permission of two members of staff at the university. After six days in detention(!), he was not charged.

Brilliant advice from Oliver Blunt QC, who is described in his CV as “frighteningly clever”, “a magnetic presence in court”, a “wise and silky smooth advocate”, quoted in the Times Higher Education:

Oliver Blunt QC, of the Anti-Terrorism team at Furnival Chambers in London, said that academics do have a “right” to “access” terrorist materials, whether for research or otherwise, as long as they do not “possess” them.

He said: “Once the researcher knowingly downloads or saves the materials that he is accessing, then he is in ‘possession’ of terrorist materials.

There is no ‘right’ to ‘possess’ terrorist materials and, while a genuine researcher would be able to establish a defence, the evidential burden is on the researcher to do so.”

Indeed Blunt appears frighteningly clever, given his advice to access but not possess a PDF (from a public website) without first downloading it.

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