Britain vows to fight on as terror suspect Qatada freed from prison
Published 13/11/2012 | 05:00
Terror suspect Abu Qatada was released from a British prison today after winning the latest round in his battle against deportation.
The radical cleric, who has been fighting extradition for more than a decade, was released on bail after judges yesterday approved his appeal against deportation to Jordan to stand trial.
The Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac) allowed Qatada's appeal, saying despite assurances to Home Secretary Theresa May, it could not be sure that evidence from witnesses who had been tortured would not be included in a retrial in the Middle East country.
Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, was released from maximum security prison HMP Long Lartin near Evesham, Worcestershire, today, following yesterday's ruling.
He will return to his home address - although he is said to be planning to move with his family.
He will be subject to a 16-hour curfew and allowed out between 8am and 4pm, with conditions including wearing an electronic tag, not using the internet, and not contacting certain people.
The cleric was convicted of terror charges in Jordan in his absence in 1999.
Jordan has given the Home Secretary assurances that no evidence gained through torture will be used against him but Siac judges said they could not be sure this would be the case.
Mrs May told MPs yesterday: "Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, who is accused of serious crime in his home country of Jordan.
"The British Government has obtained from the Jordanian government assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial. We will therefore seek leave to appeal today's decision."
She added: "The Government has been doing everything it can to get rid of Abu Qatada and we will continue to do so."
Mrs May described a European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruling, which prevented Qatada's deportation earlier this year, as "deeply unsatisfactory" and accused the Strasbourg court of "moving the goalposts" for governments trying to deport dangerous foreign nationals.
Qatada, who is said to have wide and high-level support among extremists, featured in hate sermons found on videos in the flat of one of the September 11 bombers.
He has so far thwarted every attempt by the Government over the last decade to deport him, in a battle thought to have cost at least £420,000.
The home affairs committee chairman Keith Vaz last night told BBC News the case had cost taxpayers £1 million.
He said: "At the moment, it looks pretty farcical that a very dangerous man is now put on bail having gone through the court system for seven years and having cost the taxpayer £1m."
Mr Vaz added: "What we need to do is study the judgment carefully and to try to persuade the Jordanians to do the only thing that the courts wanted them to which is to strengthen the Jordanian criminal code."
Siac judges ruled that evidence from his former co-defendants Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher, said to have been obtained by torture, could possibly be used against him in a retrial.
"The Secretary of State has not satisfied us that, on a retrial, there is no real risk that the impugned statements of Abu Hawsher and Al-Hamasher would be admitted probatively against the appellant," they said.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper backed plans to appeal against the "extremely serious and worrying judgment", but said Mrs May needed to get Qatada's deportation "back on track".
The cleric's solicitor Gareth Peirce welcomed the ruling, saying: "It is important to reaffirm this country's position that we abhor the use of torture and a case that was predicated upon evidence from witnesses who have been tortured is rejected - rejected by the courts of this country as by the European Court.
"We clearly agree with the decision, but it is important to emphasise the fundamental rules of law that we subscribe to. To that extent, it is important for other cases, not just for this case."
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said: "We are determined to deport him, we strongly disagree with the court ruling. We are going to challenge it, we are going to take it to appeal. We are absolutely determined to see this man get on a plane and go back to Jordan, he does not belong here.
"He should not be in this country, he is a dangerous person. He wanted to inflict harm on our country and this coalition Government is going to do everything we can to challenge this every step of the way to make sure that he is deported to Jordan."
David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, said: "It's a very frustrating episode for all concerned but as far as I can see this is not the end of the road."
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that an appeal would probably be "disposed of very quickly", but added that "the key to this case really lies in Jordan".
"What the judge said, what the court said in terms, was that a simple amendment to the Jordanian criminal code so as to remove an ambiguity that is in it at the moment ought to suffice to make deportation possible, because it would then be possible to say without fear of contradiction that Abu Qatada, if placed on trial back in Jordan, would not be tried on the basis of evidence obtained by torture," he said.