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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2007, 17:52 GMT
Teacher speaks of Sudan 'ordeal'
Gillian Gibbons and her son and daughter
Gillian Gibbons was met by her son and daughter at the airport

A British teacher jailed in Sudan for letting her class name a teddy bear Muhammad has spoken of her "ordeal", after returning to the UK.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, from Liverpool, had spent eight days in custody for insulting Islam before eventually being pardoned by President Omar al-Bashir.

Mrs Gibbons said she was in "total shock" but was "well treated in prison and everyone was very kind to me".

After speaking at Heathrow, she was taken by police to an unnamed location.

The teacher and her family were expected to return to Mrs Gibbons' son's home in Wavertree, Liverpool, but reporters from around the world have been left waiting there for hours.

Mrs Gibbons' son, John, and, daughter, Jessica met her at Heathrow Airport, and the BBC's Matt Prodger said a homecoming party would be held in Liverpool later.

'Fabulous time'

Mrs Gibbons, a mother-of-two, was arrested on 25 November and later given a 15-day sentence after allowing her pupils to hold a vote and choose the name Muhammad, the same name as the Islamic Prophet, for a teddy bear.

She arrived back to London accompanied by British Muslim peers Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed, who had mediated for her release.

TEDDY ROW TEACHER TIMELINE
Sept: Gillian Gibbons' 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
4 Dec: Mrs Gibbons arrives back in the UK

After a meeting with Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed, the press office of President al-Bashir announced that Mrs Gibbons had been pardoned and released after "mediation".

On her arrival at Heathrow, Mrs Gibbons looked tired but relieved as she was whisked to a private room to speak to reporters for the first time since her ordeal began, our correspondent said.

He understands that when Mrs Gibbons was first arrested, she asked a British consular official not to tell her family for fear it might worry them.

Only then was she told that her case had become an international media story.

Mrs Gibbons said the incident had "all come as a huge shock to me" and that going to prison was "terrifying" although she never actually spent any time in the Omdurman women's jail.

She said: "I was very upset to think that I may have caused offence to people - very, very upset about it.

"I'm just an ordinary middle-aged primary school teacher. I went out there to have an adventure and got a lot more adventure than what I was looking for. I never imagined this would happen."

Mrs Gibbons added that she was "very sorry" to leave Sudan, where she had had a "fabulous time".

I wouldn't like to put anyone off going to Sudan
Gillian Gibbons

She said: "It is a beautiful place and I had a chance to see some of the countryside.

"The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind and generous and until this happened I only had a good experience."

"I wouldn't like to put anyone off going to Sudan.

"I would like to thank Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi and I would like to thank all the people who have worked so hard to secure my release and make my time more bearable."

Mrs Gibbons said she was treated the same as other Sudanese prisoners and that the Ministry of Interior sent her a bed, which was "the best present".

'Quite tense'

When asked if she was going to continue as a teacher, Mrs Gibbons said: "I'm looking for a job - I am jobless."

Lady Warsi, who helped negotiate a pardon for Mrs Gibbons, told BBC News 24 that some of the meetings she and Lord Ahmed had with Sudanese officials were "very, very difficult".

She said: "On Sunday we spent most of that day having very difficult meetings, some of them quite tense, some of them were very, very difficult.

"And then at the end of Sunday we were presented with some hope that we may be able to see the president on Monday and we may be able to reach a resolution.

"We had that meeting on Monday morning... and thankfully we secured a release."

The teacher's local MP, Louise Ellman, has welcomed Mrs Gibbons' return but said the jail sentence "should never have happened".

Gillian Gibbons
Gillian Gibbons did not want to worry her family over her arrest

"The original incident was something very innocent and then what should have been seen as a minor error - and certainly a very innocent one - suddenly became blown up into something extremely important and the whole thing has been very, very worrying and quite horrendous."

Downing Street said Prime Minister Gordon Brown had spoken to Mrs Gibbons upon her arrival in the UK.

He is said to be pleased that she had returned, wished her well and had also made clear to her that the government stood ready to provide whatever further assistance she may require.

Khalid al Mubarak, media counsellor at the Sudanese embassy in London, said he was very pleased the situation had been resolved.

'Red faced'

He also suggested that orientation classes for westerners coming to work in Sudan should be reintroduced. They had been standard procedure during the colonial era, he said.

He said a short course ending in an exam, perhaps run at local colleges in Sudan, would be "very useful" to help new-comers avoid basic mistakes such as using the left hand to offer something to somebody - the left hand is considered unclean.

Mrs Gibbons' son earlier said his family had been "under a lot of pressure" but added that he was "very pleased" his mother was returning home.

Meanwhile, Jonah Fisher, former BBC Khartoum correspondent, said that the arrest of Mrs Gibbons must have seemed like an easy opportunity to give Sudan's former colonial masters a bloody nose.

But in actuality, it appears to be Sudan's President al-Bashir who has been left with a red face, he added.

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Baroness Warsi and Lord Ahmed on the negotiations






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