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Witness 2000: review of the year Duncan Kennedy
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Duncan Kennedy on Gen Pinochet’s battle with the British courts
General Pinochet
March
In this month:
It was a good month for Vladimir Putin - he became Russia’s new president. Pope John Paul II completed an emotional pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Later he historically asked for forgiveness for the past sins of Catholics.
Hundreds of bodies were found in Uganda in a suspected mass murder linked to a religious cult.
Around 400 people died in eastern Nigeria in fighting between Christians and Muslims over the introduction of Sharia law.
The Yugoslav war crimes tribunal jailed Croat General Tihomir Blaskic for 45-years. Deutsche Bank took over Dresdner Bank, creating a German institution with assets of $1.2 trillion.
Bob Ayling, the man who dropped the British from British Airways’ tailfins, quit as chief executive. BMW announced it was getting rid of its "English patient", Rover Cars. In the UK, the maverick Tory MP Teresa Gorman was temporarily barred from the House of Commons over undeclared business interests.
The Scottish Parliament heard the first debate in Gaelic for more than 600 years. Something even older in Scotland, the Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye, were put on sale amid wrangles over ownership.
The UK’s secret services failed to come up to James Bond’s standard - one agent had his laptop "stolen" in a train station while another spook left a computer in a bar after a drunken night out.
American Beauty won Best Picture at the Oscars. In sport, New Zealand defended yachting’s greatest prize, the Americas Cup, and West Indian fast bowler Courtney Walsh became the leading test wicket-taker in history.
Carlo Parolo, one of Italy’s most famous footballers and inventor of the bicycle kick in the 1950s, died.

Best of BBC coverage:
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The Pinochet affair
Could a state charge the former head of another country with crimes against humanity? BBC news correspondent Duncan Kennedy witnessed the battle over Chile's General Pinochet.

Read the transcript

The first I knew that General Pinochet was actually on his way out of the country was when the police officer gave me a nod and a wink.

I'd been standing on a freezing roadside near the general's luxurious home in Surrey to the south of London, waiting for his cavalcade.

It was the third of March.

The decision had just come through that he was too ill to be extradited and he was to be allowed to leave Britain to go home.

All the cameras and journalists were pinning their lenses and their eyes on the front gate of his home.

But then I noticed that a policeman on foot and another on a motorbike had positioned themselves down the road a bit away from the media.

Thinking something was up I wandered down there and asked a few questions, like what was going on and when was the general leaving.

The officer on foot was pleasant enough but clearly didn't want a dressing down from his senior officer for talking to someone from the press.

A headline that read "Constable so-and-so reveals Pinochet departure secrets" would not exactly go down well on his next job application form, and he knew it.

So he just smiled his "I-know-something-you-don't" kind of smile, and that was it.

Spiriting one of the world's most famous former-dictators away from the sleepy lanes of the English countryside was clearly an operation that required great planning.

And the British government wanted the least amount of publicity possible.

But then after a few minutes the radio on the police bike cackled into life ...a short inaudible burst of activity that signaled something was up.

That's when I got the nod and the wink from the foot patrolman.

The look that said, "If I were you I'd get my camera here as quickly as possible". I can take a hint.

With cameraman at my side, the general's convoy of cars, police bikes and a helicopter above duly swept past. I didn't even see the man himself.

I discovered later our camera HAD caught a glimpse of an elderly figure stooped in the back seat.

We sat in our satellite truck musing over the pictures time and again.

Was it him or not?... In the end we decided it was, concluding that neither his bodyguards nor Chilean diplomats would be bent over like that wearing what appeared to be a blanket around his legs.

It was a surreal sight.

An ex-Chilean dictator being whisked away past the golf courses, manicured lawns and parked Volvos of genteel England.

You knew everything had been in place for this moment for months.

That is, ever since another surreal moment...the night General Pinochet had been arrested, 17 months earlier.

I was sent on that story, too. This time to a hospital in central London.

There I was, one night in October 1998 standing outside, having been told that General Augusto Pinochet, yes, THE General Pinochet, a figure from my hazy childhood memory was now in a bed, on a ward, in this hospital in front of me.

I stayed for days, behind the police barrier looking up at the windows.

His arrival marked the start of a long battle between those who wanted him to stand trial for human rights abuses and those who said the general had immunity from prosecution and should be sent home to Chile.

In the end it came down to a tussle between the courts and compassion. It WAS ruled that he didn't have immunity, but Britain's Home Secretary decided the general was too ill to face a trial.

General Pinochet's supporters were delighted, his opponents despondent.

There would be more positive news later in the year for those who wanted him to face justice, but so far as the British connection went, General Pinochet's stay was at end.... and his exit came faster than the time it takes a policeman to give a nod and a wink.