Cleared ricin suspects face deportation
Fears Algerians may be tortured if sent back
Duncan Campbell and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, May 14, 2005
The Home Office is seeking to deport the Algerian men acquitted in the so-called "ricin plot" trials, despite the fact that they may be tortured if they are sent back.
The men have all been granted bail but, according to their lawyers, the Home Office is "not giving an inch" in its attempt to send them to what could be their deaths.
One of the men cleared in the trials has already been tortured in Algeria, his lawyer said yesterday.
Lady Symons, a former Foreign Office minister, visited Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco in January seeking "watertight" assurances from those countries but returned empty-handed. "No assurances were given," according to diplomatic sources yesterday.
Four Algerian men, Mustapha Taleb, Sidali Feddag, David Khalef and Mouloud Sihali, were acquitted last month of conspiracy to commit murder and to cause a public nuisance after a lengthy trial at the Old Bailey.
Their co-defendant, Kamel Bourgass, also Algerian, was convicted of killing Detective Constable Stephen Oake and conspiracy to cause a public nuisance, and was jailed for life. A second conspiracy trial, involving three Algerians (Kamel Merzoug, Samir Asli and Mouloud Bouhrama) and a Libyan (Khalid Alwerfeli), was abandoned shortly afterwards and the men acquitted.
The men, who have been granted bail under strict conditions, including reporting to police and abiding by a curfew, are pursuing their applications for asylum. (Mr Taleb and Mr Merzoug were granted asylum in 2001.)
They claim they face a serious risk of torture or death if they are deported. Amnesty International is investigating the human rights situation in Algeria where the organisation has "very serious concerns", according to a spokesman yesterday.
Bourgass was traced after information was given to the Algerian authorities by Mohamed Meguerba, who is still in jail there. This information was passed on British authorities. Lawyers are certain that Meguerba was tortured.
"The Home Office are not giving an inch on anything, the weight of evidence of the likelihood of torture," said Julian Hayes, the lawyer for the youngest acquitted defendant, Mr Feddag, 20.
He said he had spoken to someone who had been detained along with Meguerba: "He told us that Meguerba was in a very bad state. We know for a fact that he was tortured and that Algeria has an appalling record."
Because of the charge that he was involved in an Islamist plot, Mr Feddag would be at grave risk if he returned, said Mr Hayes, even though he had been cleared.
Alastair Lyon, who represents Mr Sihali and Mr Khalef, said he was disappointed at the response of the authorities to the acquittals. "They have shown no comprehension of what these men have been through and have made no attempt to atone for what has happened to them," he said.
Mohammed Zeb, lawyer for Mr Bouhrama, said yesterday that his client would have "very great concern" about his safety if he were to be sent back to Algeria.
Martin Taube, who represented Mr Merzoug, said the injuries suffered by his client while detained in Algeria gave a clear indication of what might happen to the others if they were returned.
Intelligence and anti-terrorist officials said they want those acquitted in the first trial to be deported to Algeria, despite the risk they would be tortured. They believed the men remained a threat to Britain's national security despite the jury's verdict.
But any decision to deport them would have to satisfy British courts, which are bound by international obligations which include protecting people from torture and degrading treatment.
There are no officials costs for the trials but estimates range from £20m to £50m, a cost exacerbated by delays for legal arguments.
The political ramifications of the collapse of the trials are still being felt. While Tony Blair, with the backing of the commissioner of the Metropolitan police, Sir Ian Blair, will claim that identity cards would have made it easier to trace Bourgass, opponents of the plans will argue that Bourgass had false foreign identification documents which the government's ID proposals would not have exposed.
The UN committee against torture is meeting in Geneva and this week human rights groups called on governments to cease reliance on diplomatic assurances as a safeguard against torture and ill-treatment.
Jury anger over threat of torture (Guardian, 21.05.05)
The ricin ring that never was (The Guardian, 14.05.05)
Fears Algerians may be tortured if sent back (Guardian, 14.05.05)
I was tortured, says ricin plotter (Times Online, 09.05.05)
Covert to jihad whose travels took him to bin Laden (Times Online, 09.05.05)
The politics of poison (The Guardian, 15.04.05)
Milburn tries to defuse row with apology for officer's death (The Guardian, 15.04.05)
The ricin ring that never was (Dossier The Guardian, 14.04.05)