In the Media

Abu Qatada could come back to Britain even after deportation, Theresa May admits

PUBLISHED March 24, 2012

The Home Secretary wants to send the terror suspect, currently on bail, to face trial in Jordan but must first convince the European Court of Human Rights that evidence obtained through torture will not be used against him.

She needs to act within the next two months otherwise his bail conditions will be lifted, preventing police and the security services from keeping track of the man once described as "Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe".

But on Friday Mrs May raised publicly for the first time a risk that even if Britain does deport Qatada, he could find his way back here.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, she said three times that she was working to avoid the prospect of the extremist cleric being returned to Britain from Jordan.

The Home Secretary said: "I went to Jordan myself a couple of weeks ago and had some very positive, very constructive meetings with ministers there, I also was able to meet the King.

"There's some legal work now going on between our lawyers and lawyers in Jordan looking at this in detail.

"What I want to do is get to a position where we have the assurances from Jordan that allow us to deport Abu Qatada.

"Obviously there would be an opportunity for further legal appeals to be made to the Government.

"And what I want to do is do it in a way which means that we can deport him and that we are not required by any court to bring him back. That's what I'm aiming for.

"From their point of view, they are keen to show Jordan has changed because it has changed from the image that the European court has.

"Believe you me, I want to be able to deport Mr Qatada as much as the people of this country.

"What I want to do is to be able to deport Abu Qatada in a way that ensures when he is deported he remains deported, and is not required to come back to this country."

Pressed on whether or not the Government would deport him even if the Strasbourg court said it would breach his human rights, Mrs May said: "What I'm working on is getting the assurances that do enable us to deport Abu Qatada.

"That's my aim because if I do it in that way then I can assure that the deportation is sustainable. And that's what I want to ensure, once Abu Qatada is deported from the UK, he remains deported from the UK."

Qatada has spent almost a decade on remand or under surveillance in Britain without facing trial, until the ECHR in January ruled that he could not be deported to Jordan because of the risk he would not face a fair trial, prompting his release from Long Lartin jail.

He had been convicted in absentia for a plot to blow up targets in Jordan and Israel to coincide with millennium celebrations and faces retrial if deported to Amman. But if he were acquitted or released after a short time behind bars, it is feared that Jordan could return him to Britain because of his uncertain citizenship status.

Born in 1960 in Bethlehem, then part of Jordan but now governed by the Palestinian National Authority, he was granted asylum by Britain in 1994 and was in the process of applying for indefinite leave to remain when he was arrested in the wake of 9/11.

His wife lives in a rented house in north-west London with their four children, and it is thought that Qatada could also use human rights laws in an attempt to return to Britain to be with his family.

Government lawyers also appear to be considering the possibility that the ECHR could demand his return to Britain if it felt his deportation had breached his human rights.

Neither the Home Office nor Qatada's solicitor, Gareth Peirce, wished to comment on the case.

Meanwhile the Government is bracing itself for another ruling by the ECHR in a high-profile terrorism case.

The court confirmed on Friday that it will deliver judgment on April 10th in the case of Abu Hamza, Babar Ahmad and others, who are using human rights grounds to fight extradition to the USA.