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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 May, 2003, 12:55 GMT 13:55 UK
Saudi attacks 'prove Britons' innocence'
By Christine Jeavans
BBC News Online

Saudi police survey the wreckage of one of the vehicles used in the bomb attacks
Monday's bombings are the latest in a string of attacks on Westerners
Friends and relatives of six Britons imprisoned in Saudi Arabia say the latest bomb attacks further their case that they have been wrongly convicted.

The men were jailed in 2001 after some of them publicly admitted taking part in a bombing campaign which killed another Briton.

Their families have long alleged their confessions were false and were beaten out of them. They say the Saudi authorities have "concocted" the motive of a feud between alcohol bootlegging gangs.

Monday night's suicide bombings, in which at least 34 people died, and other similar attacks, have added to fears the Britons have been used as scapegoats by a regime which did not want to admit that Islamic terror groups might be to blame.

The more terror attacks that occur in Saudi, the more absurd these games they have been playing with the Britons look
Stephen Jakobi
Fair Trials Abroad

Mary Martini, former wife of jailed James Cottle, 51, from Manchester, said the Saudi authorities were in denial about terrorism in the kingdom.

"They're blaming these Brits but bombs keep going off," Ms Martini told BBC News Online.

She said the Foreign Office should take the chance to publicly challenge the Saudi authorities over why the six men are being held.

The Foreign Office "has never stood up and said 'they're innocent', but I think now is the right time," she said.

Two of the Britons, Sandy Mitchell from Glasgow and Glasgow-born William Sampson, face the death penalty.

The director of campaign group Fair Trials Abroad, Stephen Jakobi, told BBC News Online "no-one outside of Saudi" any longer believed that the Britons were guilty of planting bombs.

"Every terrorist activity in Saudi, and there has been a considerable number, demonstrates that Saudi has had a serious terror problem against Europeans for a long time.

Sandy Mitchell, Glasgow
William Sampson, Glasgow / Canada
James Cottle, Manchester
Les Walker, Wirral
Peter Brandon, Wales
James Lee, Cardiff

"The more that occur, the more absurd these games they have been playing with the [imprisoned] Britons look."

He added: "Being able to blame outsiders solves an internal political problem".

Yvonne Wardle, daughter of Les Walker, another of the Britons being held, said Saudi Arabia had "concocted" the story about alcohol bootleggers "when they could have been out looking for the people responsible".

"Now the writing is on the wall and they must face up to their problem," she said.

'Softly, softly'

Ms Martini said the Foreign Office had told her it was taking a "softly, softly approach" to secure the men's release, but she feared it was not working.

"They say representations are being made at the highest level and private talks [are held with] the Saudi Government, but we are never told of anything like that and we really doubt that they are being as firm with them as they should be."

She told BBC News Online: "I'm sick to death of being patronised by the Foreign Office.

"They say 'we can't interfere with the judicial process' but then they say they don't know what is going on, and whether their appeals have been rejected or not.

Ms Martini said her former husband was being kept under video surveillance in a "cellar-type area", deprived of sleep and had spent months in solitary confinement.

In recent months he had been allowed to make short phone calls and write letters to the family and was now held in a cell with fellow Briton, Peter Brandon

"I have been tortured and my government will not stand up and condemn the Saudis for what they have done. Now why won't they do that?
Ron Jones

The families fear the men's confessions were extracted from them by torture.

Businessman Ron Jones was arrested after one of the explosions and held for weeks during which time he alleges he was tortured. He was then freed without charge.

He said he was dismayed the British Government appeared not to have challenged the Saudi authorities over the torture issue.

"I have been tortured and my government will not stand up and condemn the Saudis for what they have done. Now why won't they do that?" he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"Nobody in government or the Foreign Office have stood up and said torture is going on in Saudi Arabia. Nobody."

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw refused to acknowledge torture was taking place.

Sandy Mitchell during his taped confession
Sandy Mitchell has been sentenced to death

"I am not prepared to say that it is going on," Mr Straw told Today.

"We worked hard for Mr Jones's release and helped to secure it and I am doing the same in respect of the other British citizens who are still detained by the Saudis.

"I saw Prince Saud, who is the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia, on Monday of this week in London."

Pushed on Mr Jones's claims, Mr Straw said: "Where there is clear evidence of torture, including Saudi Arabia, we condemn it".

Sandy Mitchell, from Kirkintilloch, Glasgow, and Glasgow-born William Sampson, face public beheading after being convicted of planting a bomb under Christopher Rodway's car in November 2000.

James Cottle, from Manchester, Peter Brandon, from Wales, Les Walker from the Wirral and James Patrick Lee from Cardiff - are serving prison sentences - thought to be 12 years - for plotting the bombings, which also injured other foreigners.

Another Briton, thought to be named Glen Ballard, and Belgian, Ralph Skevins, are also being held over the bombings.

Timeline: 'Bomb' Britons in Saudi jails
14 May 03  |  Middle East
FBI joins hunt for Riyadh bombers
14 May 03  |  Middle East
Britons 'to be tried' for Saudi bombings
28 Feb 02  |  Middle East
Britons confess to Saudi bombings
13 Aug 01  |  Middle East
Getting a drink in Saudi Arabia
08 Feb 01  |  Middle East

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