Tuesday 30 May 2017

Wife of British businessman extradited to USA breaks down as she recounts ordeal

Wesley Johnson

THE wife of a retired British businessman extradited to the US for alleged arms dealing broke down in tears today as she spoke of her despair that nobody was prepared to listen to his defence before "carting him off".

Elaine Tappin said she could not believe her husband Christopher, 65, was not given the chance to put his side of the case before losing his two-year battle against being sent to America last week.

She was giving evidence to MPs in London as Tappin, who faces up to 35 years in jail if convicted of selling batteries for Iranian missiles, faced his first appearance in a US courtroom tonight.

Mrs Tappin, 62, of Orpington, Kent, broke down in tears as she described how her family felt "incredulity, frustration, heartrending sadness, despair and utter disbelief" as they faced a "wholly uncertain future".

In a written statement which Mrs Tappin was unable to finish reading, she went on: "At the heart of our despair is the fact that nobody was prepared to listen to Chris's defence before carting him off.

"They ticked the boxes but were deaf and blind to the possibility of injustice.

"Chris is simply another statistic.

"Britain has allowed this to happen to Chris - next time it could be someone close to you.

"I now lie awake at night not daring to contemplate how Chris will fare if bail is denied him at the end of this week."

Mrs Tappin, who has chronic Churg-Strauss Syndrome, was accompanied by her son, Neil, when she appeared before the MPs on the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee.

Just last week she tearfully accompanied her husband to Heathrow Airport, before he was handcuffed and seated between two US marshals on a plane to America.

Tappin, who had been caring for her prior to his extradition, has said he was "not very confident at all" about his case, primarily because his UK-based witnesses will not travel to the US and the American authorities do not allow video interrogation.

Before being forced to leave Britain under the controversial UK-US treaty, Tappin said he had been failed by the Government, branding the decision to extradite him a "disgrace".

He argued that the radical cleric Abu Qatada, who poses a threat to the UK's national security, had "more rights than I have" after he was allowed to stay in the UK.

The president of the Kent Golf Union, who is currently in custody, is due in court in El Paso, Texas, for a procedural hearing at 2.30pm local time (8.30pm GMT).

He is likely to be remanded in custody for three days when a bail hearing will take place, according to lawyers.

His MP, Tory Jo Johnson, and UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, who has known the businessman for nearly 40 years, have asked Home Secretary Theresa May to intervene to ensure the US authorities do not object to bail.

Tappin denies attempting to sell batteries for surface-to-air missiles which were to be shipped from the US to Tehran via the Netherlands.

He has said that, for justice to be done, he should be tried by a jury of his peers in the UK, not a jury 3,000 miles away.

But magistrates and the High Court backed his extradition and he exhausted his appeal options earlier this month when a last-ditch plea to human rights judges was rejected.

Prime Minister David Cameron said last week that the Government would carry out a "proper, sober and thoughtful" review of the UK's extradition arrangements with the US.

An independent review of the UK's extradition arrangements by retired Court of Appeal judge Sir Scott Baker last year found that the current treaty between the US and the UK was both balanced and fair.

But critics claim it is one-sided, with MPs, peers and campaigners all calling for reform.

Mrs Tappin said she had still not been able to talk to her husband since he was extradited.

She said the UK Consulate called the family last night and "informed us that Chris was being held in isolation, locked up for 23 hours a day, and denied access to any reading material".

She said it was the "cruellest blow" when her husband lost his battle against extradition, saying he "was stunned and totally devastated when his appeal was rejected".

Mrs Tappin went on: "Shouldn't it be a basic requirement that a proper case be made out against Chris in a UK court before subjecting him to total disruption to his life, and freedom, that extradition entails?

"Isn't that the cornerstone of British justice?"

Asked about the US-UK extradition treaty which has been described as "one-sided", Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC said there were "underlying fundamental problems that are not very easy to address".

"I think there's a lack of public confidence in the US justice system," he said.

There were perceptions in Britain that the US justice and penal systems were "harsh and disproportionate", leaving Britons "uneasy and uncertain", he added.

He told the MPs these concerns were "not readily curable".

Mr Grieve said recent events highlighted the problems with the US-UK treaty.

"I think there's a lack of public confidence in the US justice system, which is a rather wider issue and more complicated than the minutiae of the treaty agreement," he said.

"There are perceptions in this country that the US criminal justice system can be harsh, its penal policy can be harsh, and its sentencing policy can appear disproportionate by European and British standards.

"There are aspects of it therefore which tend to make people uncertain and uneasy, and I'm not sure that that's readily curable."

He added: "Perhaps we are where we are today because we rushed things in 2003."

Asked about Tappin, he said: "Any circumstances in which a person of Mr Tappin's age is going to be extradited to a country, a very long way from home, separated from his family, to be involved in the criminal justice system with clearly an uncertain outcome from his point of view... is going to be stressful and distressing."

He said there was "rather considerable scrutiny" before Tappin was extradited, but admitted the circumstances caused the public "disquiet".

"It may be linked to Mr Tappin's respectability... and his age, in contrast for example to an individual who may attract public opprobrium and be seen in one way or another as being rather undesirable.

"I have nothing to suggest to me that Mr Tappin did not have full judicial scrutiny of the issues he wished to raise, including the protection that he might derive from the European Convention on Human Rights."

Mr Grieve also told the MPs: "I certainly don't think they (the UK's extradition laws) are in the condition in which ideally I would wish them to be.

"But we have the 2003 Act and we have international treaty obligations to a large number of countries - 44 flow from it.

"So I'm sure the committee can appreciate how complex an issue that's inevitably going to be."

He went on: "In a world where we wish to see crime successfully combated, having a system by which to facilitate transfer to countries which meet the necessary criteria of fairness so as to curb crime is absolutely indispensable."

Janis Sharp, the mother of computer hacker Gary McKinnon who is fighting extradition to the US, and David Bermingham, one of the NatWest Three bankers who spent 17 months in prison after being extradited to the US in 2006, were in the public gallery for today's hearing.

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