Page last updated at 19:39 GMT, Friday, 5 March 2010

Convert turned accused bomber keeps his faith

By Nick Beake
BBC News, London

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'I didn't know what I was arrested for'

He was the white, grammar school boy from Buckinghamshire. His late father worked as a political agent for the Conservative Party, his mother was a PE teacher and devout Christian.

But in 2006 Donald Stewart-Whyte was accused of plotting murder on the scale of 9/11.

The plan was to blow up planes from London over the Atlantic, killing hundreds of people. Four men were found guilty last year for their part but Mr Stewart-Whyte was cleared by the jury.

When he was arrested by anti-terror police in 2006 he was 20-years-old and had converted to Islam four months earlier.

Speaking to BBC London exclusively, he said: "For three days I didn't know what I was arrested for. I was just told it was for terrorism.

"I asked my mum over the telephone what had I been arrested for and she said 'for tying to blow up transatlantic airliners'.

"I was just in shock, baffled. I just didn't know what to say or do."

Liquid explosives

The prosecution later argued in court that Mr Stewart-Whyte was a "foot solider" who was willing to kill hundreds of people.

They said he had been groomed by another man from High Wycombe, Umar Islam, who was later found guilty of planning murder.

Witnesses claimed Mr Stewart-Whyte had expressed extremist views and talked in detail about how to get liquid explosives on a plane - something he has always denied.

I was once prejudiced against Islam. I thought it was just for the terrorists
Donald Stewart-Whyte

He said he only met Umar Islam once and sent him a few text messages asking him how he was.

"It was three years that I spent of my life with people thinking that this man is probably guilty.

"All I can say to these people is go look at the evidence. The evidence was pitiful."

Mr Stewart-Whyte said when his father died he went off the rails; he started drinking and smoking cannabis, then he was thrown out of two grammar schools in High Wycombe.

He said the Islamic faith has helped him get his life back on track.

"I was once prejudiced against it [Islam]. I thought it was just for the terrorists. Eventually I learnt that looking at people in a religion and looking at a religion are two very different things."

Mr Stewart-Whyte explained how he felt when he realised he faced the rest of his life behind bars.

"That was a scary, scary thing. But then I sat back and thought I haven't done anything, just trust in God and he'll bring me through.

"I'd been trying to say, this is not what Islam's about and then I got pulled into it [the terror arrests], at which point I was a bit dumbfounded."

Guilty with gun

He condemned the men in the dock alongside him who were found guilty.

"I'm just glad my mother wasn't going to America because I would have been very angry. No-one can kill anybody."

Mr Stewart-Whyte was cleared of plotting to kill hundreds of people but pleaded guilty to possession of a loaded gun, a silencer and ammunition.

It was not suggested in court that these were related to any terrorist activity.

"I was childish and I made a mistake. I never intended to hurt anybody, I wouldn't have hurt any body, I was trying to sort my life out.

"Okay, I made a mistake when I was younger. I was trying to sort myself out before I got into this whole mess."

His mother, Dorothea Simmons, said: "Knowing that he was innocent gets you through because you think whatever is thrown at him he can only tell the truth."

She said she didn't blame the authorities for what happened to her son.

"They have to do their job, there are evil forces around and plots and they need to keep people safe."

Now 23-years-old and a free man, Donald Stewart-Whyte, lives with his wife and baby daughter in Buckinghamshire and they are expecting their second child.

It may have been his conversion to Islam which led to his appearance in the dock but he says his faith has carried him through the last four years and is stronger than ever.



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