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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 15:45 GMT 16:45 UK
Saudi 'bomb' Britons return
The men landed at Heathrow after being granted a royal pardon
Six Britons convicted of bombings in Saudi Arabia have returned to the UK after being released from jail.

The six arrived back in Heathrow on Friday afternoon. They were driven off in a van with a police escort, avoiding waiting reporters.

The men had been convicted of a series of bombings that killed one Briton, Christopher Rodway, in November 2000, and injured several other Western expatriate workers.

The Saudi Embassy said on Friday the men had been granted ''royal clemency''.

Two of the men - Scot Sandy Mitchell, who has family ties in Halifax, and Glasgow-born William Sampson, a longtime resident of Canada - had faced public beheading.

James Cottle from Greater Manchester, Peter Brandon from Cardiff, Les Walker from the Wirral and James Lee from Dinas Powys, south Wales, had been sentenced to up to 18 years each.

I'm worried... the Saudi Government and the British Government now will say 'end of story' and they won't investigate any more
Jane Rodway, whose husband Christopher died in a 2000 bombing
A seventh Briton, Glenn Ballard, who was detained for 10 months but not charged, has also been released.

Saudi authorities claimed the bombings were part of an alleged feud over illicit alcohol trading among expatriates.

But the men's families and campaigners claimed the six were scapegoats for attacks on Western targets carried out by Islamic extremists.

They said confessions made by five of the men on television were forced out of them, and that they had been victims of torture and solitary confinement.

'Who killed my husband?'

The men's lawyer Salah al-Hejailan said his clients were "grateful" for the clemency.

But he said the men still insisted they were innocent, and the five who had made televised confessions had retracted them soon afterwards.

Mr al-Hejailan dismissed the official explanation for the bombings, saying alcohol sales would have earned the men only a few thousand dollars a year and "could not possibly be a rationale for these crimes".

Mitchell
Sandy Mitchell had been sentenced to death by public beheading
He said the granting of clemency was in the interests of both the Saudi and British governments and praised the "political participation by all the governments".

"They have done a very good job," he said.

But the widow of Mr Rodway, who was herself slightly injured in the 2000 car bombing, said she was "shocked, upset and very worried" by the news.

Jane Rodway, 53, from Reading, Berkshire, said: "I believe the Saudi Government and the British Government now will say 'end of story' and they won't investigate any more.

"The Saudi Government believes that these men are guilty. The British Government believes they are innocent, but I don't think the Saudis will want the investigation opened up and I don't think the British Government will force them to."

She said she felt she and the other victims and their families had been "forgotten".

I have always believed those men were innocent
David Brown, bomb blast survivor

She said she understood the six had been released after her stepson Justin, 28, as the eldest male in the family, gave clemency to the men. She did not have a say under Saudi law.

By contrast David Brown, from Southport, who was left blind and without his right hand in one of the blasts in December 2000, said the release was "brilliant news".

The 34-year-old, who is married with two children, and now living in the UK, had campaigned to have the Britons released.

"I have always believed those men were innocent," he said.

"I believe it was a terrorist act which injured me, and you would be drawn to the conclusion that it was Islamic militants."

'Wrong people'

Supporter MP John Pugh said the release would "draw a line" under the case.

He attributed the release to diplomatic pressure and recent meetings he and others had had with the new Saudi ambassador to London.

He suggested that the Saudi authorities had realised the affair was damaging both the image of Saudi justice, and Saudi-UK relations.

"I think they got the wrong people - they have another view - but nonetheless I think the outcome which has occurred is highly desirable," he said.

Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed the men's release, but urged UK ministers to take a stronger stance with the Saudis over alleged torture and mistreatment of prisoners.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Kim Barnes
"The men's supporters said the whole prosecution was unfair"



SEE ALSO:
Timeline: British 'bombs' case
14 May 03  |  Middle East
Saudi damages case blocked
30 Jul 03  |  Southern Counties
Britons confess to Saudi bombings
13 Aug 01  |  Middle East


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