Drug smuggler returns to Britain after 20 years in Philippines jail

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A YORKSHIRE drug smuggler given an official pardon after languishing in a squalid Philippines jail for two decades has been returned to the UK.

Thalidomide victim William “Billy” Burton, 48, who is originally from Wetherby, was given the Boxing Day pardon from a life sentence on the grounds of his deteriorating health by President Benigno Aquino III, 20 years to the day since he was arrested at Manila Airport trying to smuggle 12lb of marijuana out of the country.

The former Wetherby High School pupil was due to return home last week, but was turned away from boarding the aircraft at the last minute.

But he landed safely at Heathrow yesterday. The Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke, who issued a plea last July to the British Embassy in the Philippines to do more to secure Burton’s release, yesterday tweeted: “Overjoyed to have just welcomed Billy Burton back home after twenty years imprisoned in the Philippines.”

Burton, who was born with shortened arms and twisted hands caused by the drug Thalidomide which at the time was seen as a safe sleeping pill for pregnant women, was 29 when he got into financial difficulties while travelling the world. He attempted to smuggle drugs out of the Philippines but was arrested at Manila airport as he tried to board a flight to Australia.

He was given a 30-year life term and initially told he would be considered for parole after eight years. But a subsequent change in drugs laws in the Philippines meant he became ineligible for parole and his sentence was increased to 40 years, with a release date of 2032.