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Writers slam 42-day detention plans

Forty-two renowned British writers have joined forces to attack the government over its plans to allow the detention of terror suspects without charge for up to 42 days - on the eve of a crucial vote on the issue.

The list of writers taking part in the campaign, co-ordinated by human rights group Liberty, includes illustrious names such as Philip Pullman, Monica Ali, Julian Barnes, Ian Rankin, Alain de Botton, Ali Smith and AL Kennedy.

Each writer has produced a new piece of work lambasting the controversial legislation, which will be published online at www.42writers.com at noon.

The literary protest comes ahead of a vote on Monday on the Counter Terrorism Bill in the House of Lords, where it is expected to meet fierce opposition. The legislation made it through the House of Commons in June by just nine votes.

Earlier this week Downing Street said Prime Minister Gordon Brown remained committed to extending the pre-charge detention period. But there were claims ministers have given up hope of getting the legislation through the Lords.

The now heavily amended proposals would require Parliament to be recalled if custody extension were needed. Judges would also review detention cases at regular intervals.

In a scathing piece for 42 Writers for Liberty, Pullman, the award-winning author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, writes: "We don't know how lucky we are, to live in a nation where police officers have all of six weeks to discover why they've locked us up.

"Ask them after 41 days why a prisoner is still behind bars, and they can honestly and innocently say, 'No idea, mate.' But give them that extra day, and they'll crack it."

Kennedy, winner of the Costa Book of the Year Award, warns the experience of being held for 42 days without charge will leave a permanent scar on suspects' lives. She said: "In 42 days we will have made you different. You may be charged, you may be released. You will always be different."