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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 18:37 GMT
Teddy row teacher returning home
Gillian Gibbons
Gillian Gibbons was teaching at a school in Khartoum

A British teacher who was jailed in Sudan for letting her class name a teddy bear Muhammad has begun her journey home after being freed.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, was described as "elated" by UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband as her eight days in custody ended.

She was sentenced to 15 days jail, but pardoned by President Omar al-Bashir.

She is flying back to the UK via Dubai, and is expected to land in the UK on Tuesday morning.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "delighted" at the teacher's release.

She has shown very good British grit in very difficult circumstances
David Miliband
Foreign Secretary

Mother-of-two Mrs Gibbons was released four days after being convicted for insulting religion.

Following her release, Mr Miliband said the teacher was "a little overwhelmed" at the attention her case had attracted, but was in "remarkably good spirits" and "elated to be back on her way home".

He added: "She has shown very good British grit in very difficult circumstances, but I know that the most important thing for her is to get home as soon as possible and return to her family."

He also hailed the "team effort" which led to Mrs Gibbons's release, praising diplomatic staff and saying that the intervention of two British Muslim peers - Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed - had been "an important contribution".

Khartoum protest

Earlier, a demonstration of about 30 or 40 people was held outside the embassy in Khartoum, with banners protesting about the decision to release her.

Mrs Gibbons was arrested on 25 November and jailed on 29 November after allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

TEDDY ROW TEACHER TIMELINE
Sept: Gillian Gibbons's class votes to name a teddy bear Muhammad
25 Nov: She is arrested for allegedly insulting Islam's Prophet
28 Nov: Mrs Gibbons is charged with insulting religion and inciting hatred
29 Nov: A Sudanese court finds her guilty of insulting Islam and sentences her to 15 days in prison and deportation
1 Dec: Two British Muslim peers press Sudanese officials to pardon her
3 Dec: Mrs Gibbons is pardoned by Sudan's president and freed from prison

The press office of President al-Bashir announced that he had pardoned Mrs Gibbons following his meeting with Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed, and that she had been "released after their mediation".

In a statement read out by Baroness Warsi, Mrs Gibbons said: "I have great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone and I am sorry if I caused any distress.

"I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends but I am very sorry that I will be unable to return to Sudan and work in Unity High School as the teacher of 2X."

Mr Brown said it was "completely wrong" that Mrs Gibbons had been detained, and described her imprisonment as "completely unacceptable".

He said: "Through the course of Mrs Gibbons's detention I was glad to see Muslim groups across the UK express strong support for her case."

Speaking to reporters outside his home in Liverpool, Mrs Gibbons's son John said he was "very pleased".

He said: "I'd like to thank the government for all they have done, the hard work behind the scenes, especially the two peers who went out there.

Gillian should never have been arrested in the first place, let alone held in jail - she had done nothing wrong
Inayat Bunglawala
Muslim Council of Britain

"Everyone's been really great. Obviously it's a great feeling today, we're very pleased, we have been under a lot of pressure."

Ibrahim Mogra from the Muslim Council of Britain told BBC News 24 that the whole saga had been very damaging for the image of the Muslim faith as it could lead some people to "feel that Islam has no place in modern society".

President al-Bashir had been under pressure from Sudanese hardliners to ensure Mrs Gibbons served her full sentence, while others called for a retrial and for the sentence to be increased.

Jonah Fisher, the BBC's former BBC Khartoum correspondent, said: "The carefully stage-managed pardoning of Mrs Gibbons by Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir will have satisfied few within his divided government."



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The events leading up to the pardon of Gillian Gibbons





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