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BBC refuses to hand over evidence on Islamics to Police

The BBC was facing a clash with the Metropolitan Police last night after refusing to hand over videotapes to prosecutors investigating two Muslim clerics suspected of inciting violence.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has instructed the Met to obtain the full, unedited 'rushes' of interviews with two controversial Islamic preachers, broadcast in August on Newsnight

The CPS wants to establish whether there are grounds to prosecute Abu Uzair, a former leading light of the radical al-Muhajiroun movement and a leader of the Saviour Sect, an Islamic group whose members include those who have allegedly endorsed suicide bombings. Prosecutors are also considering bringing a case against another radical cleric, Abu Izzadeen.

Uzair told Newsnight: 'We don't live in peace with you any more. The banner has been risen for jihad inside the UK.' In the same programme, Izzadeen said the bombings would make people 'wake up and smell the coffee'. The interviews prompted widespread public revulsion.

The CPS has considered bringing a number of charges against the two, including incitement to treason, solicitation of murder and incitement to withhold information known to be of use to police. The Met approached Newsnight requesting copies of the interviews earlier this month, but the programme declined to hand over the full material. However, it is believed to have offered transcripts of the broadcast.

On 9 September, an application was made to recover all the interview material.

But last night the BBC showed little sign it was prepared to give up the tapes without a fight. 'The Metropolitan Police has agreed to provide us with further information so we can consider its application properly,' said a spokeswoman for the programme.

She declined to comment further, but it is believed the broadcaster believes handing over the material could compromise its journalistic independence.

Newsnight assistant editor Ben Rich wrote an online article defending the interviews shortly after they were broadcast. 'The issue of extremism is a very difficult one for broadcasters, and sadly often causes offence. It was our view that it was a legitimate part of our role to identify and demonstrate these problems, and discuss how they should be addressed,' Rich wrote.

The CPS made a similar request for co-operation from the Sunday Times, which earlier this year sent a reporter into the Saviour Sect. The paper's investigation led to allegations the Saviour Sect encouraged its followers to commit acts of violence.

One of the sect's leaders, Omar Bakri Mohammed, was quoted as telling supporters shortly after the London bombings: 'For the past 48 hours, I'm very happy.' Two weeks later, he referred to the bombers as the 'fantastic four'. The newspaper handed all its material to the police. The CPS is considering whether to bring charges against Bakri if he returns to the UK.

Orders for broadcasters to hand over videotape are not unknown. Earlier this month police investigating disorder during the G8 summit issued a court application to seize footage from BBC Scotland and Scottish Television.

In 2002 in Belfast, Judge Patrick Markey - in secret session - ordered the BBC and Ulster Television to hand over their footage of rioting in Drumcree.

A spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police declined to comment.

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