Redbridge terror suspect Cerie Bullivant speaks of being wrongly accused and why he went on the run
Five years ago suspected terrorist Cerie Bullivant was one of the most wanted men in the country after going on the run, sparking a national manhunt.
After being placed on a control order by the Home Secretary under the anti-terrorism laws, he had failed to report to a police station – causing fears of a terrorist attack.
At the peak of the search almost 50 journalists set up camp outside his mum’s house and there was mounting political pressure on the Home Office over using the orders.
Today Cerie, 29, is a free man after being found innocent at the High Court and is now getting ready for the filming of The Secret Evidence, a film based on his experience.
On board are Golden Globe-winning producer J Todd Harris, international award-winning director Nick Racz and actress Emma Thompson, from Love Actually and Harry Potter.
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Cerie, of Fremantle Road, Barkingside, said: “The whole experience took three years away from me and put me into a position I never wanted to be in. But it’s opened my eyes to the injustice in this country. We’re going down a very worrying path and undermining our British values.”
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Cerie had a troubled childhood, spending a period in foster care. He attended Goodmayes Primary School, Airthrie Road, and Wells Primary School, Barclay Oval, Woodford Green, Mayfield School, Pedley Road, Goodmayes and Warren Comprehensive, Whalebone Lane North, Chadwell Health.
After dropping out of the University of East London at 19, he spent a couple of years working in pubs and clubs – including the former White Hart pub, Green Lane, Goodmayes.
At 21 he converted to Islam after being inspired by a chance meeting with an old school friend.
Cerie said: “I have always been interested in religion and Islam was the first faith which didn’t ask me to believe in it blindly.
“There is lots of science in the Koran which could not have been known when it was written in a desert 1,400 years ago.”
He then decided to go backpacking to Syria to learn more about Islam and to study Arabic.
“When I got to Heathrow I was questioned for nine hours by the anti-terrorist branch and later by MI5.
“They asked me about what music I listened to, where I went to school and what I thought of 9/11 and 7/7 – to which I pointed out that they are obviously horrific things.”
The officers apologised, saying it was just a routine check, but told him not to visit anywhere which could be considered suspicious. Instead of the Middle East, Cerie decided to go to Bangladesh where a friend was running an orphanage.
“About a week before I was about to leave I was helping my friend build a patio in Barkingside when five plain clothes policemen turned up and asked if I was Mr Bullivant,” said Cerie.
“It was like in a film. They said they were giving me a control order and that I had to go with them to the police station to go through the terms.”
Initially the terms of the order included signing in at a police station each day, not being allowed to move house and being forbidden from visiting ports, airports or international train stations.
Over the two years the order was in place this expanded to include a curfew, wearing a tag, not being able to leave the house without calling the police, a ban from speaking to certain people and exclusion from education and employment.
Cerie said: “I did my best to abide by it for nine months, but there were so many conditions that it was impossible.
“I don’t know a single person that has completely complied with it. If the bus is late and I don’t get to the station on time it’s considered a breach and I can be put in prison for five years.”
Another condition is that the police can search your house unannounced.
“The police came round twice a week,” he said. “It’s like being continually burgled. I’d wake up in the night worrying that the police were there.”
Cerie decided not to tell his mum about the control order as she was unwell but said the mounting pressure was becoming too difficult for him to handle.
He said: “The whole process just dehumanises you until you have an empty shell of a life. It just hangs over you. I didn’t want to go out and had trouble doing even basic things.”
After talking to his friends Lamine and Ibrahim Adam, who were also under control orders and whose brother Anthony Garcia was jailed for his involvement in the fertiliser bomb plot, Cerie decided to run away.
“Everything which was happening was done on the back of secret evidence and there was a part of me that thought ‘they’re never going to let you have a life’,” said Cerie. “My friends said they were going to abscond and I decided to go with them.”
This sparked a national manhunt in 2007 for the three men and although Cerie handed himself in after five weeks, the Adam brothers were never found.
Cerie said: “After a while I realised I was just as stuck while on the run as when on a control order and the only thing I could do was to fight it in the courts, so I handed myself in.”
For the next nine months Cerie fought his case through the courts. An Old Bailey jury accepted his reasons for going into hiding and a High Court judge quashed a second control order, meaning he was now free.
After seeing a documentary about Cerie, Nick Racz contacted him with a view to making a documentary about control orders but Cerie pitched the idea of a feature film.
“I wrote the script with my friend Arthur. It was incredibly hard and took us about eight months.”