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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 August, 2003, 16:34 GMT 17:34 UK
Saudis deny torture claim
Some of the men arrive at Heathrow airport
The men were returned to the UK this month
A senior Saudi adviser has vehemently denied three British men were tortured into confessing to a car bombing campaign.

Foreign affairs adviser to the Crown Prince Abdullah, Adel al-Jubeir, told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend the Saudi authorities stood by their claim that the men's crimes were part of an alcohol smuggling feud.

He said the King pardoned the group - who returned to Britain earlier this month - because he felt it was "in the best interest of the nation and in the best interest of our relations with Great Britain".

Three of the six men who were convicted of the bombings were reported in a Sunday newspaper to be launching legal action against Saudi Arabia.

A seventh man freed had been detained but not convicted.

The three have now instructed a Manchester-based firm of solicitors Pannone & Partners to begin legal proceedings against the kingdom on claims of human rights abuses and false imprisonment, according to the Observer.

The men are pressing ahead with the actions despite attempts by the Saudi authorities to offer them up to 1m each in "hush money", the paper quoted "prominent Saudi dissidents" as saying.

It says Saudi Arabian authorities are keen to prevent them from speaking publicly about their experiences.

Concern for wife

Sandy Mitchell, James Cottle, Les Walker, James Lee, Glenn Ballard, Peter Brandon and William Sampson, who has a Canadian passport, were all released last month.

Some of the men were held in solitary confinement for more than two years, and two had faced the prospect of a public execution.

Mr Lee and Mr Cottle, who were both sentenced for up to 18 years' imprisonment, are two of the three said to be taking legal action, says the newspaper.

Mr al-Jubeir said the men had not been tortured while in prison.

He said: "We deny that. Well let them be examined by medical doctors and we'll see. The King has the right to pardon people and he exercised that right."

Asked if the men had been released for political reasons, he said: "They were pardoned. When the Kind of Saudi Arabia pardons people it should not be a big deal. We are damned if we do and damned if we don't."

He said they did not accept the bombings might have been the work of al Qaeda.

Mr al-Jubeir said: "What happened is there was a series of explosions that were perpetrated by rival gangs who were involved in smuggling alcohol.

"We have the evidence, we have the proof and we stand by it. I don't expect that the men who were pardoned would come out and say, 'Oh gee, the Saudis were really right, we were alcohol smugglers and we tried to shoot each other'.

"But for people to think that Saudi Arabia tried to pin charges on foreigners in order to hide a terrorism problem is preposterous."

Fears are said to be growing for Mr Ballard's wife Sharon who remains stranded in the Saudi capital Riyadh.

Saudi intelligence services have yet to return her passport, and her return home has been further complicated by the suspension of all British Airways flights to Saudi Arabia.

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08 Aug 03  |  Manchester
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14 May 03  |  Middle East
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30 Jul 03  |  Southern Counties
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13 Aug 01  |  Middle East

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