In the Highest Degree Odious: Detention Without Trial in Wartime Britain

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Clarendon Press, 1992 - Detention of persons - 453 pages
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During the Second World War just under two thousand British citizens were detained without charge, trial, or term set, under Regulation 18B of the wartime Defence Regulations. Most of these detentions took place in the summer of 1940, soon after Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, when belief in the existence of a dangerous Fifth Column was widespread. Churchill, at first an enthusiast for vigorous use of the power of executive detention, later came to lament the use of a power which was, in his words, 'in the highest degree odious', but although many detainees were fairly soon released a considerable number remained in custody for prolonged periods, some for the entire duration of the war. This book provides the first comprehensive study of Regulation 18B (and its precursor in the first world war, Regulation 14B). Based on extensive use of primary sources it describes the complex history of wartime executive detention: the purposes which it served, the administrative procedures and safeguards employed, the conflicts between the Home Office and the Security Service which surrounded its use, the part played by individuals, by Parliament, and by the courts in restraining abuse of executive power, and the effect of detention upon the lives of the individuals concerned, very few of whom constituted any threat to national security. Much of what was done was kept secret at the time, and even today the authorities continue to refuse access to many papers which have escaped deliberate destruction. This study is the first to attempt to penetrate the veil of secrecy and tell the story of the gravest invasion of civil liberty to have occurred in Britain this century.

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The Invention of Executive Detention
Regulation 14B and its Progeny
Emergency Planning between the Wars

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