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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May 2003, 18:13 GMT 19:13 UK
Timeline: British 'bombs' case
One of the Britons on Saudi TV
The men were shown on television, confessing to the bombings
The case of six Britons and a Belgian, imprisoned in Saudi Arabia over a bombing campaign in which several Westerners have died, remains a murky one.

The Saudi authorities allege the bombs were planted as part of a feud between rival gangs dealing in illicit alcohol.

But the families of the accused, and even some of the victims, say that the facts do not add up and that Saudi Arabia has been using the men as scapegoats to explain away terror attacks on foreign nationals.

The saga began at 1320 (0920 GMT) on 17 November 2000 when an explosion killed a Briton who was driving his four-wheel drive car through the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Christopher Rodway, 48, an engineer who worked at Riyadh military hospital, died of his injuries. His wife, Jane, escaped with only minor cuts and bruises.

The couple were among 30,000 British nationals, who live and work in Saudi Arabia.

Police cordoned off an area in the centre of the city after the explosion, which happened just after Friday prayers finished.

It was initially unclear whether the vehicle had been booby-trapped or whether an assailant had thrown a bomb through an open window.

Police searched the couple's house and a neighbour's car for further bombs but found nothing.

On 22 November 2000 three Britons, including Steve Coughlan from Cheshire and Mark Paine, and an Irish woman were injured in a second attack in the capital.

On 15 December 2000 another Briton - David Brown, from Edinburgh - survived a bomb attack in Khobar, eastern Saudi Arabia.

The explosion occurred as Mr Brown tried to remove a small parcel which had been placed on his windscreen.

Mr Brown, 32, a customer services manager for Coca-Cola International, lost his hand and his sight in the blast.

On 20 December 2000 a Lebanese man and a Belgian living in Riyadh were arrested by the Saudi authorities as part of an investigation into a group suspected of smuggling illegal liquor and selling it in the kingdom.

In Riyadh on 14 January 2001 an Irishman found a bomb under his Jeep which had been parked overnight in his compound. It was defused without injury.

On 4 February 2001 three men appeared on Saudi television confessing to their part in the bombing campaign.

Alexander 'Sandy' Mitchell, an anaesthetic technician from Kirkintilloch, near Glasgow, William Sampson, a marketing consultant from Canada but who has British citizenship, and Belgian doctor Ralf Schyvens did not explain the motive for the attacks and looked nervous.

All three claimed they were acting "under orders" but did not say who had ordered the bombing.

Sandy Mitchell during his taped confession
Sandy Mitchell was sentenced to death
The Saudi authorities speculated that the bombings were related to some sort of feud between groups controlling the bootleg alcohol trade.

They also insisted the trio would go on trial under the sharia system, under which the sentence for murder is execution by beheading.

But Mr Mitchell's sister, Margaret Dunn, said she believed her brother was drugged and forced to make the confession.

On 5 February 2001 Mr Rodway's father, Jerry, 69, a retired sales representative from Salisbury, Wiltshire, said the three deserved the death penalty if they were proved to have killed his son.

On 15 March 2001 in a British TV interview Mr Coughlan cast doubt on the evidence against the trio.

He said Mr Schyvens' confession contradicted the facts. In their confession, the trio said they heard the bomb explode as they drove away, whereas it did not detonate until the car was several miles down the road.

Also on 15 March 2001 another Briton, accountant Ron Jones, from Hamilton, Lanarkshire, was injured when a bomb exploded in a dustbin outside a bookshop in Riyadh.

Despite his injuries, he was taken from his hospital bed by police, and held for 67 days, during which time he says he was tortured and urged to confess to planting the bomb that injured him.

About 30,000 Britons live in Saudi Arabia

On 3 April 2001 Dr Saad Al-Fagih, the director of the Movement for Islamic Reform, told the BBC he believed the bombings were the work of Islamic militants.

He said the Saudi authorities had detained 50 Islamic fundamentalists at the same time as the three westerners were arrested, and he believed they were behind the bombings.

Dr Al-Fagih said the televised confessions were a cover-up to divert attention away from the truth and to present an impression of stability to western investors.

On 17 May 2001 Saudi Arabia's Deputy Interior Minister Prince Ahmed al-Saud told the Al-Okaz newspaper the government knew who was behind the bombings.

He said the attacks were linked to "individuals involved in illegal activities" but he refused to name them.

On 13 August 2001 three more British men appeared on Saudi television confessing to a role in the attacks.

They were named as James Lee, from Cardiff, James Cottle, from Manchester, and Les Walker from Neston on the Wirral.

A fourth, Peter Brandon, thought to be from Wales, was not shown confessing but was also held.

Everything then went quiet as the men sat in custody awaiting their trial.

But on 27 April 2002 reports came out of Saudi Arabia suggesting two of the men had been secretly sentenced to death.

Mr Mitchell and Mr Sampson were apparently facing death by public beheading and the others had been jailed, some reports said for 12 years, others for 18.

On 30 April 2002 Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram called on the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, to find out from the Saudis what had actually happened.

But the precise facts of the charges and sentences remain veiled in mystery.

Meanwhile, bombings continued. Briton Simon Veness was killed by a car bomb on 20 June 2002 in Riyadh.

The 35-year-old married banker's 4x4 vehicle had been booby-trapped and exploded as he turned the ignition.

Again, rumours were put about that he was involved in the illegal alcohol trade.

Then on 29 September 2002, a German national, Maximillian Graf, 57, was killed in another car bomb in Riyadh.

A month later it emerged that a Briton, Glen Ballard, had been arrested and held without charge.

On 8 May 2003 Gary O'Nions, 57, arrived back in Britain after serving two years of an eight-year sentence for running an illicit drinking and social club in Riyadh.

A close friend of three of the jailed Britons, he said there had been no rivalry within the ex-patriate drinking scene.

On 11 May 2003 Jane Rodway, the widow of Christopher Rodway, who was killed in an explosion back in November 2000, called for the men accused of the bombing campaign not to be released.

I knew they couldn't have done it - I was with them at the time
Gillian Barton
James Lee's fiancée

"I really do not know if these men are innocent or guilty - but I have to blame somebody," she said.

The following month, the UK government was criticised for not doing enough to free the Britons.

John Pugh, Liberal Democrat MP for Southport, said: "Whenever I have asked about this case in the past I have been given the same bland response.

"They say they are doing their best behind the scenes."

On 3 June 2003 the Foreign Office defended its involvement and said publicity was "detrimental" to their case.

"We do believe that pressure is most effectively undertaken by engaging the Saudi authorities in private," said junior Foreign Office minister Bill Rammell.

"If we... actually imperilled the situation of the men, that is surely not a course of action that you would be calling for us to take."

The fiancée of one of the men being held, James Lee, then publicly accused the government of not doing enough to help the men.

Gillian Barton said: "I knew they couldn't have done it - I definitely knew Mr Cottle and James Lee couldn't have done it - I was with them at the time."

On 8 August 2003 Mr Mitchell, Mr Sampson, Mr Cottle, Mr Brandon, Mr Walker, Mr Lee and Mr Ballard returned to the UK after being released from jail.

On 17 August 2003 Mr Cottle, Mr Lee, Mr Brandon and Mr Ballard began legal proceedings against Saudi Arabia on claims of human rights abuses and false imprisonment.

Foreign affairs adviser to the Crown Prince Abdullah, Adel al-Jubeir, denied the men had been tortured.

The Saudi authorities stood by their claim that the men's crimes were part of an alcohol smuggling feud, he added.

Saudi's King Fahd had pardoned the men because he had felt it had been "in the best interest of the nation and in the best interest of our relations with Great Britain", Mr al-Jubeir said.

Bill Sampson and Les Walker
Mr Sampson and Mr Walker say they were forced to confess

On 24 February 2004 Mr Mitchell, Mr Walker and Mr Sampson made a claim in the High Court for compensation from their prison interrogators Lieutenant Khalid al-Salah and Captain Ibrahim al-Dali, Colonel Said, the deputy governor of al-Ha'ir prison, and the Saudi minister of interior Prince Naif bin Abdul Aziz.

The claim was struck out at the High Court, citing the 1978 State Immunity Act, which did not allow English courts jurisdiction over the Saudi government.

But on 28 October 2004 at the Court of Appeal, Mr Mitchell, Mr Walker and Mr Sampson won the right to sue the Saudi officials in UK courts, with an order the Saudi state pay their costs.

The Saudi government refused to pay the costs and appealed to the Law Lords, claiming its officials were protected by state immunity.

And on 14 June 2006 the Law Lords allowed the Saudi appeal, denying the men the right to sue for damages.


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