May vows to fight on as judge rules terror suspect free to stay

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THE Government will continue to do everything it can to “get rid” of terror suspect Abu Qatada, Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs as she confirmed she would appeal against a legal decision preventing his deportation.

Mr Justice Mitting granted the radical cleric bail after the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) upheld his appeal against being sent to Jordan to face trial.

But in a Commons statement, Mrs May said she believed the decision was based on the “wrong legal test” and the Government “strongly disagrees” with the ruling. Qatada will be released on bail today and Mrs May said the Government’s lawyers would press for the “most restrictive” conditions possible.

“Qatada is a dangerous man, a suspected terrorist, who is accused of serious crime in his home country of Jordan,” the Home Secretary told MPs.

“The British Government has obtained from the Jordanian Government assurances not just in relation to the treatment of Qatada himself, but about the quality of the legal processes that would be followed throughout his trial. We will therefore seek leave to appeal today’s decision.”

Once described as Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, Qatada was convicted of terror charges in Jordan in his absence in 1999. He has been fighting extradition for a decade.

Earlier this year, Mrs May was given assurances by Jordan that no evidence gained through torture would be used against him.

She told the Commons: “Despite these assurances, despite the determination of the Jordanian Government and judiciary to allow Qatada a fair trial, despite the change to the Jordanian constitution that expressly prohibits torture and the use of evidence obtained by torture, in the absence of clear case law Mr Justice Mitting still found in Qatada’s favour. In doing so, we believe he applied the wrong legal test.”

She added: “It is deeply unsatisfactory that Abu Qatada has not already been deported to Jordan. Successive governments have tried to remove him since December 2001. He has a long-standing association with al-Qaida.”

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “This is an extremely serious and worrying judgment that means from tomorrow Abu Qatada will be back on Britain’s streets.

“I think people will be horrified across this country to learn that that is the case.”

Mrs Cooper said everyone wanted Qatada out of the country and added Mrs May was right to appeal against the SIAC judgment.

But she told MPs: “There are some serious questions that need to be answered about the Home Secretary’s strategy to get this deportation in place and the action you are taking now to keep the public safe.

“It is clear now all of your promises and assurances were overblown and your strategy has fallen apart over this decision.”

Ms Cooper said the Home Office should have appealed against the European Court judgment to the Grand Chamber in Strasbourg when it had the chance in a bid to remove the block which had appeared in the British courts.

A Conservative MP urged Mrs May to put Qatada on the plane and deal with the ramifications later.

Peter Bone said that while it would be a breach of the law to defy the courts and deport Qatada on the next plane to Jordan, the Home Secretary should do it anyway.

Colne Valley Tory MP Jason McCartney sought answers on what any sanction for such a move would be.

Mrs May replied: “I would be breaking the law, anybody, any official, any civil servant, anybody who had anything to do with putting him on the plane would be breaking the law.”