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Thursday, 2 March, 2000, 14:44 GMT
Straw: Pinochet may never stand trial

Baroness Thatcher: Prolific Pinochet supporter
General Augusto Pinochet will probably never now stand trial for the crimes he is alleged to have committed during his 17 year rule in Chile, Home Secretary Jack Straw has told the Commons.

The pinochet File
Addressing MPs barely minutes after the Chilean air force plan carrying the former dictator had left the UK, Mr Straw said that he had been "keenly aware of the gravity" of the alleged crimes carried out by General Pinochet.

But he added that the case had been unprecedented and, as a result, both he and the UK's courts had been forced to navigate "in uncharted territory".

In a separate statement outside of Parliament, former prime minister Lady Thatcher welcomed the end of a "political vendetta" which had "tarnished" the reputation of British justice.

Review of law

Mr Straw said he now wanted a review of the UK's extradition law and he would be publishing a consultation document soon.

It has established beyond question the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country cannot assume they are safe elsewhere, that will be lasting legacy of this case.

Jack Straw
"I'm all too well aware of the practical consequences of refusing to extradite Senator Pinochet to Spain is that he will probably not be tried anywhere," Mr Straw told the MPs.

"I'm very conscience of the sense of injury that is bound to be felt by those who suffered from breaches of human rights in Chile in the past as well as their relatives."

All of these matters had been "of great concern" when Mr Straw came to considering the evidence of General Pinochet's state of health.

But he added: "Ultimately, however, I was driven to the conclusion that a trial of the charges against Senator Pinochet, however desirable, was simply no longer possible," he told MPs.

Mr Straw described how he had received 70,000 emails and letters from the public, mainly calling for the former dictator to be extradited.

Jack Straw: 'Decision was mine alone'

Stressing that the decision had been his alone and not that of the government as a whole, he said: "This case has been an unprecedented one," he said.

"Throughout the process I have sought to exercise my responsibilities in a fair and rational way in accordance with the law. The case has understandably aroused great debate and feeling.

"It's impact has been felt world wide. It has established beyond question the principle that those who commit human rights abuses in one country cannot assume they are safe elsewhere.

"That will be lasting legacy of this case."

'Muddle and delay'

Shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe told MPs the whole case had been characterised by "muddle, contradiction and delay".

Ann Widdecombe: ""Muddle, contradiction and delay"
Miss Widdecombe welcomed the review of extradition law but called on the home secretary to publish the full costs "from beginning to the end of this case".

She said it had always been her opinion it was Chile's decision whether the former dictator should stand trial.

"It is a satisfactory outcome of a deeply unsatisfactory case," she said.

"At the end of these procedures, I can't believe Spain, Chile, the senator or the relatives or victims of the alleged crimes are happy at all.

"I can't believe anyone has gained satisfaction from the way the case has been handled."

Thatcher welcomes decision

Speaking later in the day, Lady Thatcher, a long-time supporter of the general, said that the entire process had been a waste of public money.

"Senator Pinochet was a staunch friend of Britain throughout the Falklands war," she said, reading a statement outside her London office.

"His reward from this Government was to be held prisoner for 16 months.

In the meantime his health has been broken, the reputation of our courts has been tarnished and vast sums of public money have been squandered for a political vendetta.

"So, friends of Britain be warned - the same could happen to you."

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See also:

12 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
The Pinochet case: Timeline
23 Jan 00 |  Health
How ill is Pinochet?
20 Jan 00 |  The Pinochet file
Pinochet profile: Saviour or tyrant
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