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Friday, 23 November, 2001, 14:51 GMT
UK signs extradition deal with Spain
Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol has attracted British fugitives
Britain and Spain have signed a treaty to end the lengthy extradition process that helped make the southern Spanish coast a hideaway for British criminals.

UK Home Secretary David Blunkett is on a two-day visit to Spain to finalise a new fast-track system for extraditions between the two countries.


Spain has been a popular destination for UK criminals on the run

David Blunkett
He is discussing drug trafficking, co-operation on terrorism and asylum issues with his Spanish counterparts.

Signing the agreement, Mr Blunkett said: "Spain has been a popular destination for UK criminals on the run.

"So far this year we have made 35 requests to Spain, nearly half of our outgoing requests. This includes suspects wanted for the most serious crimes, including murder and rape.

"This treaty means they will be surrendered to British police much more quickly and vice versa."

Sanctuary

Among those who sought sanctuary in Spain was underworld figure Ronnie Knight - former husband of EastEnders actress Barbara Windsor - and Freddie Foreman, an associate of the Krays.

Both later returned to serve jail sentences.

In recent years Kenneth Noye - who was jailed for life last year for stabbing Stephen Cameron to death in a road rage murder on the M25 - hid in Spain before his arrest.

Gibraltar
David Blunkett is likely to discuss Gibraltar in the talks
The home secretary is also expected to announce plans for pan-European efforts to target international crime lords.

The proposals could mean European police officers working in the UK alongside British detectives - with UK investigators keeping control of each operation.

A Home Office spokesman said the policing proposals would be put to the European Council of Ministers, backed by Spain, France and Belgium.

The idea is to prevent criminals escaping justice by skipping borders.

No 'sell-out'

The Home Office says new units may be set up to deal with specific investigations and then be disbanded, instead of becoming permanent fixtures in each European country.

The move is designed to build on measures taken in May to encourage better inter-European police investigations.

The new agreement could bring down the average time it takes to bring suspects to trial from 12 months to a target of three weeks.

For many years Spain has been the hideaway of choice for British gangsters.

ETA car bomb in Madrid
The UK and Spain both endure illegal immigration and domestic terrorism
This year alone the UK made 35 extradition requests to Spain and 11 people have been extradited so far.

Cases still outstanding include five murder, attempted murder or manslaughter cases, 14 drugs cases, 10 for theft, forgery or conspiracy, four for rape, indecent assault or assault on a minor and two for kidnapping.

And over the year the UK has received five extradition requests from Spain.

During his visit to Spain, Mr Blunkett will meet Justice Minister Angel Acebes and Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Mariano Rajoy.

It is hoped his visit will cement a stronger relationship between the UK and Spain.

The future of Gibraltar is also likely to be discussed, although Foreign Secretary Jack Straw reassured its 30,000 residents there would be no "sell-out" of British sovereignty.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Margaret Gilmore
"The new treaty will reduce the number of extradition hearings"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"If we cut through all the red tape, obviously we will make a difference"
See also:

21 Nov 01 | Media reports
Hard times ahead for the Rock
20 Nov 01 | Europe
Head to Head: Gibraltar's future
26 Sep 01 | UK Politics
UK to review extradition measures
19 Nov 01 | UK Politics
Anti-terror bill clears first hurdle
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