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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 20:40 GMT 21:40 UK
Britons delighted at Saudi release
The men landed at Heathrow after being granted a royal pardon
Five Britons convicted of bombings in Saudi Arabia have spoken of their delight at being released from jail.

The five British men, along with a Canadian and a Belgian national, flew back to Heathrow on Friday, after being granted clemency by Saudi's King Fahd.

In a joint statement, released by the Foreign Office, the men thanked their families, friends and supporters as well as the government and media.

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

We would like to thank everyone for their support, especially our family and friends.
Statement from the six Britons

In their statement the men asked for "some time and space with our families".

They said: "We are delighted to be home. We would like to thank everyone for their support, especially our family and friends.

"Also the British embassy in Riyadh, the government and the RAF support team for going the extra mile."

The men paid tribute to the media who "campaigned for and supported us".

Public beheading

"We are not yet ready to speak to the media. We will be in touch," they added.

Two of the men - Scot Sandy Mitchell, who had been living in Halifax, and Canadian citizen William Sampson, who was born in Glasgow - had faced public beheading.

James Cottle from Greater Manchester, Peter Brandon from the Midlands, 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 sixth Briton, Glenn Ballard, who was detained for 10 months but not charged, was also released.

The Saudi Embassy in London said on Friday King Fahd had ordered the men's sentences to be lessened, and decided that the time they had already spent in prison was sufficient punishment.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he "greatly welcomed" the men's release.

"I am relieved that they have returned to the UK and their families.

"It has obviously been a very difficult time for the men and their families. Ministers and officials have worked hard for this outcome."

'Shocked and upset'

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.

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, they said.

Sandy Mitchell had been sentenced to death by public beheading
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, adding that he thought Islamic militants were the real culprits.

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.

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.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford
"They were immediately whisked away by the police and Foreign Office officials"

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13 Aug 01  |  Middle East

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