PRIME Minister David Cameron said he was “absolutely delighted” that Abu Qatada had finally been deported to Jordan, saying the radical preacher’s continued presence here had made his “blood boil”.
Qatada’s arrival in the Middle East country brought to an end the Home Office’s £1.7m, near decade-long battle to get him out of the country.
Mr Cameron said: “This is something this Government said it would get done and we have got it done, and it is an issue that like the rest of the country has made my blood boil that this man who has no right to be in our country, who is a threat to our country and that it took so long and was so difficult to deport him, but we have done it, he is back in Jordan, and that is excellent news.”
Once dubbed Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, Qatada spent his final months in the UK in Belmarsh prison, after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.
The Government has been trying to deport him to Jordan, where he was convicted of terror charges in his absence in 1999, for about eight years.
But Qatada – who has praised the September 11 terror attacks – repeatedly used human rights laws to avoid removal.
This argument, originally rejected by British courts, was upheld by judges at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, forcing Mrs May to seek new legal guarantees from Jordan that his rights would not be breached.
Following numerous courtroom battles, it was a treaty signed between the UK and Jordan that finally secured Qatada’s departure, giving the radical preacher the assurances he needed to leave his taxpayer-funded home behind.
The agreement, announced by Home Secretary Theresa May earlier this year, aimed to allay fears that evidence extracted through torture will be used against the father of five at a retrial.
In a shock decision, Qatada pledged in May to leave Britain – with his family in tow – if and when the treaty was fully ratified, a process that to the relief of many, concluded earlier this week.
The Prime Minister said the lengthy deportation process and repeated appeals had been “immensely frustrating”, and that plans were under way to simplify the process through the Immigration Bill.
Asked about suggestions the UK should withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights, Mr Cameron said: “I think it is important that Britain meets proper international obligations – and we do – but frankly when it comes to these cases I don’t rule anything out in terms of getting this better for the future.”
He said the Conservatives would set out “the right steps to deal with this” in its next manifesto.
Mr Cameron said: “I don’t pre-judge what they will be but the one thing I am certain of is that if you have someone in your country, who has come here and threatens your country, who you can deport to a safe country, you should be able to do that and it shouldn’t take so long.”
The lengthy deportation fight has cost the taxpayer more than £1.7m since 2005, including £647,658 for Qatada’s legal aid costs and more than £1m in Home Office costs for pursuing the case through the courts.
Mrs May said she had been as “frustrated as the British public” at the length of time it has taken to deport Qatada.
She said it was vital the UK re-examines its relationship with the European Court of Human Rights, which proved a regular stumbling block in deporting Qatada.
“We have got to look at that relationship, and as far as I am concerned I think nothing should be off the table in terms of looking at how we work with and how we deal with the European Court.”
Shadow Home Secretary, Yvette Cooper, said Qatada’s deportation was extremely welcome and meant he could stand fair trial in Jordan after legal delays that had been “deeply frustrating for all Governments”, she said.
“We must ensure that delays like this do not last for so long in future and that the system is reformed to make it faster,” she said.
She added: “Abu Qatada should have made this decision to face justice in Jordan before, as this has dragged on far too long, but it is extremely welcome news that this saga is now at an end.”