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Saturday, 13 April, 2002, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
Terror hairdresser arrest 'absurd'
Philadelphia
Sarah Johnson was left in Philadelphia with no money
An American lawyer has condemned the US authorities for holding a young West Midlands woman for nearly 30 hours as a terrorism suspect.

Sarah Johnson, 22, a hairdresser from Wednesbury, was arrested just after boarding a plane at Philadelphia Airport.

She says she was humiliated during questioning then abandoned in the middle of the night with nowhere to go.


It is probably the most absurd case we have had in the United States

John Elbert, American lawyer

She is now demanding an apology from the US authorities.

Ms Johnson had spoken to three security guards at the airport and was waved through checkpoints, as she was late for her plane.

After her details were checked at the boarding gate she got on the flight bound for Puerto Rico.

She was arrested 15 minutes later.

Her US-based lawyer John Elbert said airport security officials would have had video of the whole incident and could have quickly established she was no threat.

"It is probably the most absurd case we have had in the United States with regard to airport security," he told BBC WM.


I was terrified - it was like a nightmare

Sarah Johnson

"To hold her in custody for 24 hours in the conditions she was held, was absurd," he said.

Ms Johnson has been charged with trespass at the airport and is due before a court in the US on 17 April.

Her local MP, Tom Watson, said he has written to Foreign Secretary Jack Straw asking him to put pressure on the authorities to drop the charges and apologise to Miss Johnson.

"She is a bright, straight, honest young woman and she underwent the most appalling ordeal.

"She has had a terrible experience."

Airport security
Security was increased after 11 September

Ms Johnson said: "I didn't know what was happening.

"I was taken off to a detention room and told I had breached regulations.

"They were screaming at me and all I kept doing was telling them I had done nothing wrong.

"This one man kept shouting that I was in big trouble.

"I was terrified. I had no one with me. It was like a nightmare."

Panic button

At one point she was shut in an eight-foot-square cell with a crack cocaine addict who was threatening to kill herself, her MP said.

When her 30-hour ordeal had finished she was put out into the street at 3.30 in the morning with no money and nowhere to stay.

Now Miss Johnson, who works as a hairdresser on cruise ships, wants an apology from US authorities.

Mr Watson said: "Somebody pushed the panic alarm and overreacted."


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