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Last Updated: Saturday, 9 August, 2003, 13:24 GMT 14:24 UK
Saudi Britons celebrate freedom
The men arrive at Heathrow
The men landed at Heathrow after being granted a royal pardon
Six Britons convicted of bombings in Saudi Arabia have spent their first full day back in the UK after being released from jail.

The six - one of whom also has a Canadian passport - and a Belgian national, flew back to Heathrow on Friday, after being granted clemency by Saudi's King Fahd.

Sandy Mitchell, William Sampson, James Cottle, James Lee, Les Walker and Peter Brandon have not yet spoken at length about their ordeal.

On Saturday Sandy Mitchell, a Scot who had been living in Halifax, said in a statement: "I would just like to thank everyone for their support and best wishes. I truly appreciate it. I just need some time now to spend with my family."

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

Mr Mitchell's sister Margaret Dunn, who lives near Halifax, said the men had had a "difficult time" in Saudi Arabia and were "tired".

James Cottle
He said how horrendous it was being there accused of something he hadn't done
Mary Martini, ex-wife of James Cottle

Mr Cottle's ex-wife, Mary Martini, said the men had been "traumatised" by events.

Mr Cottle had lost up to six stones in weight and she barely recognised him as he arrived at the airport, she said.

"At one point he didn't have a bath for seven full weeks and he said how horrendous it was being there accused of something he hadn't done."

The men's lawyer, Salah al-Hejailan, said his clients still insisted they were innocent, and denied reports that they all signed a letter of apology to gain royal clemency.

"They have made their position clear that an acceptance of clemency is not an admission of guilt," he told the BBC.

'Scapegoats'

Labour MP Andrew Miller, who represents the Wirral where Mr Walker lives, praised British diplomats for negotiating the men's freedom.

But Stephen Jakobi, the director of Fair Trials Abroad, was scathing of the Saudi judicial system, which he said saw people wrongly convicted.

"They just convict anything and anybody put before them. I never had any faith in the Saudi judicial system.

They have made their position clear that an acceptance of clemency is not an admission of guilt
Salah al-Hejailan, defence lawyer
"The evidence is always accepted. Consular advice is never allowed until confession statements are obtained."

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

Mr Cottle, from Greater Manchester, Mr Brandon from the Midlands, Mr Walker and Mr Lee from Dinas Powys, south Wales, had been sentenced to up to 18 years each.

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

But the men's campaigners claimed they were scapegoats for attacks on Western targets by Islamic extremists.

'Shocked and upset'

Belgian Raf Schyvens was also released on Friday as was a sixth Briton, Glenn Ballard, after being detained for 10 months without being charged.

The Saudi authorities said King Fahd had ordered the men's sentences to be reduced and said they had already spent enough time in prison.

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

But Mr Rodway's widow, who was injured in the 2000 car bombing which killed her husband, said she was "shocked, upset and very worried" to hear of the men's release.

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




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Roland Buerk
"Their families say they need time to come to terms with their ordeal"



SEE ALSO:
Family overjoyed at father's release
09 Aug 03  |  Merseyside
Freed Britons 'traumatised'
08 Aug 03  |  Manchester
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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