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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Saudi Briton 'relieved' by release
Saudi Arabia has tough laws on alcohol

A British businessman jailed for eight years in Saudi Arabia for running an illegal drinking den is back in the UK after being released early.

Gary O'Nions, also known as Gary Dixon, from London, had also been sentenced last April to 800 lashes and fined 400,000, both of which were commuted.

O'Nions - who was deported from Saudi Arabia - was originally extradited there from the United Arab Emirates in March 2001, in connection with an investigation into a series of bombings.

On Thursday the family of a British man killed in the bombing campaign, called for the immediate release of six other British men also jailed in Saudi over the attacks.

We just want to get him back home to be with the family - the most important thing is for him to see our mother
Kevin O'Nions

Mr O'Nions, 57, has denied any involvement in the campaign, which killed Christopher Rodway, 47, and injured a number of other foreigners. He was never charged in connection with it.

He said that, had he been linked to the six Britons convicted for being involved in the bombings, he would not have been freed on Wednesday.

But a member of Mr Rodway's family who asked not to be named, said all the remaining six - two of whom face execution - should also be set free.

"To be in an Arab prison is worse than being in hell," the family said.

The family member said: "I keep thinking and thinking about it and really I don't know what's going on but those chaps shouldn't be in prison.

William Sampson, on Saudi television
The six men have challenged the confession made on Saudi television

"They can't have killed Christopher. They worked together for eight years in the hospital - why would they go and kill him?"

The six were jailed after admitting their involvement in the bombings, which were officially linked to rivalry between bootlegging gangs.

'Not obvious'

Sandy Mitchell, 44, from Kirkintilloch, north Glasgow, and William Sampson, a British citizen born in Glasgow, face public beheading after they were convicted of planting the car bomb that killed Mr Rodway in November 2000.

The others - James Cottle, from Manchester, Peter Brandon, thought to be from Wales, Les Walker from the Wirral and James Patrick Lee - are serving 12-year sentences.

Mr O'Nions told BBC Radio Five Live he had been running community centres in Saudi.

"Until 2000 Saudi Arabia, in common with some other Arab countries, turned a blind eye to drinking," he said.

Sandy Mitchell
Sandy Mitchell is one of two of the imprisoned Britons facing a beheading

O'Nions said he had been told by police that if the bar was not too obvious "they would ignore it".

He added: "You must remember that alcohol is not the only thing in some of these countries that is illegal. Religion is illegal and that too has to be organised in an underground way."

Mr O'Nions is, I hope, the first swallow of the summer
Stephen Jakobi - Fair Trials Abroad

Campaigners for some of the six jailed Britons have argued their convictions were based on televised confessions, extracted under duress, and despite evidence Islamic extremists could be responsible for the bombings.

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, said: "Mr O'Nions is, I hope, the first swallow of the summer."

But he warned that attempts to secure the release of the other six Britons would be extremely difficult.

"O'Nions was always a fringe figure. The others will have much more of a problem trying to gain their release because it's gone on for such a long time."


O'Nions was greeted by his brother Kevin at Heathrow Airport on Thursday before travelling on to Plymouth for a reunion with his family.

His brother said: "He is relieved to be back home and we are relieved to have him back.

"It's just going to take time for him to readjust. He's been inside for three-and-a-half years.

"Just getting through the airport was a nightmare for him. We just want to get him back home to be with the family - the most important thing is for him to see our mother."

Briton sentenced to 800 lashes
10 Apr 02  |  Middle East
Britons 'to be tried' for Saudi bombings
28 Feb 02  |  Middle East
Britons confess to Saudi bombings
13 Aug 01  |  Middle East
Saudi bomb suspects may face execution
05 Feb 01  |  Middle East
Getting a drink in Saudi Arabia
08 Feb 01  |  Middle East

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