THE British Home Office has refused a request from Turkey to extradite Sarah, Duchess of York after she was charged with criminal offences relating to an undercover documentary about orphanages.
Turkish prosecutors made a formal request to the Home Office on Thursday to help them gather evidence against the Duchess after she and an ITV1 crew filmed children in a state-run orphanage near Ankara.
Turkey’s chief prosecutor charged the Duchess in her absence with “violating the privacy” of five children, an offence which carries a prison sentence of up to 22 and a half years.
But a spokesman for the Home Office told The Daily Telegraph that no assistance would be given to the Turkish authorities because the Duchess’s actions in exposing poor conditions at the orphanage did not constitute a crime in the UK.
“Under UK extradition law a judge must order the discharge of [an extradition request] if it is not an offence under UK law and in the country requesting extradition,” said the spokesman. “In this case there is no offence in UK law so there will be no extradition.”
While the Home Office’s refusal to help Turkey is good news for the 52-year-old Duchess, she would still face arrest if she ever went back to Turkey.
James Henderson, a spokesman for the Duke of York’s former wife, said the charges had “come as a complete surprise” to her because the Turkish authorities had said last year that the case was closed.
The possibility of legal action had first been raised shortly after the ITV1 Tonight programme was shown in 2008, in which the Duchess, disguised in a black wig and headscarf, and her daughter Princess Eugenie, accompanied an undercover team investigating the orphans’ living conditions.
The programme, called Duchess and Daughters: Their Secret Mission, sparked an immediate diplomatic row, with the Turks accusing the Duchess of trying to smear their country as it awaited a report on its application for EU membership.
Mr Henderson said the Duchess’s lawyers were working to clarify the position in Turkey, in the hope that the charges will be dropped, otherwise the Duchess will face a potential lifelong restriction on visiting Turkey.
The Turkish family and social policies minister, Fatma Sahin, refused to comment on the latest development, saying: “Our lawyers are following the case, we are waiting for the ruling. It will be wrong to comment on an ongoing court case. We will be following the process.”
The Duchess has already apologised for any embarrassment the documentary had caused Turkey, but insisted she was motivated only by humanitarian rather than political reasons.