A LEADING government adviser has claimed terror suspects arrested in raids across Scotland escaped prosecution only because the police had too little time to obtain evidence against them.

Lord Carlile, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said evidence could have been gathered to pursue cases against the north African men if the authorities had not been forced to release them.

The Liberal Democrat peer said the police had their hands tied by the-then 14-day deadline to charge suspects or release them from custody.

At least 14 people were arrested four years ago in the Operation Scotia raids spanning Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and London but no prosecutions were ever undertaken.

The issue of detention has been a fraught one for the government; its preferred extension to 90 days has had to be watered down to 28 in the face of Westminster opposition.

Last week, human rights lawyers said Lord Carlile had argued for a 90-day detention period on the basis of secret information which the public was unable to see to make their own decisions about.

His intervention came 24 hours before the government faces a rocky ride in the Commons on its terror bill, particularly on the issue of the "glorification" of terrorist acts.

Appearing before the House of Commons home affairs committee Lord Carlile said that at least one group of terror suspects had escaped prosecution because of the current 14day deadline. He told MPs the case involved a "set of circumstances crossing the AngloScottish border" and involved about eight suspects.

The QC said: "I've been told there were people who ought to have been prosecuted and about whom it was thought they could be prosecuted if (the police) had had enough time to gather evidence. I was provided with a considerable amount of material and was satisfied that was the case."

Last night, Aamer Anwar, a Glasgow-based solicitor who acted for some of the suspects, denounced what he described as "an outrageous slur" against his clients. "Lord Carlile should really check his facts before he opens his mouth. Some of these men were kept in custody. But there was no evidence to show they were implicated in planning a terrorist act . . . the men were innocent."

Mr Anwar argued it was not that the police lacked the time to question the suspects but that their investigation was incompetent and based on a lack of evidence. He pointed out how he and others had demanded a public inquiry into how taxpayers' money was spent on Operation Scotia, which involved 80 officers and cost more than GBP1m. Mr Anwar added: "Three years on and these men are still being slandered. Their lives have been destroyed and they have been traumatised."

He said some of them were living in Scotland and others elsewhere in the UK. Some had been given leave to remain by the Home Office while others were going through the asylum and immigration process.

The Herald understands that Lord Carlile was not saying evidence existed against all those arrested under Operation Scotia but he was told it certainly existed against some of them.

The operation covered a period between December 2002 and February 2003, amid heightened fears of an Islamic terror attack. Several suspects were charged under the 2000 Terrorism Act and held in custody for three months while others were arrested and later released without charge.

In response to Lord Carlisle's comments, the Crown Office said last night: "We do not comment on particular cases, but in any major investigation with cross-border implications the Scottish Police and Prosecution Services will work as closely as they can with relevant colleagues."

Lothian and Borders Police said: "We carried out an investigation and presented all evidence to the procurator fiscal."

Strathclyde Police said it also reported to the procurator-fiscal.