Previous SectionIndexHome Page

10.22 pm

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This follows the point of order that was raised by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) this afternoon. I understand from the media this evening that, despite the dangerously unstable situation in Indonesia and the failure to make any progress on the release of East Timorese refugees who are still in West Timor, the Government have taken the arms embargo off Indonesia. I wish that the Minister would come to the House to make a statement to hon. Members, instead of announcing it on the media.

Madam Speaker: Perhaps I could refer the hon. Lady to a question that was tabled on Friday for answer today, on the status of the European Union arms embargo on Indonesia. She might like to follow that through. Meanwhile, I am sure that, yet again, the Government Front-Bench team will have noted the concern of hon. Members in many parts of the House on the issue.



17 Jan 2000 : Column 659

Sandra Gregory

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Dowd.]

10.23 pm

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon): Although Sandra Gregory was arrested almost seven years ago, it is the first time that her case has been raised in the House. The reason is that a process has been going on for the past seven years, but that appears now to be stalled. It is necessary for the House to address that. A number of hon. Members have supported the case, particularly the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who has said that she would have been here if she had not been away on other business. She and I have together raised the matter with Ministers.

I remind the House that Sandra Gregory was arrested on 3 February 1993 at Bangkok airport and found to be in possession of 89 g of heroin in condoms that were secreted internally. She claimed that she was carrying the heroin on behalf of an acquaintance, Robert Locke, for a payment of £1,000, to be used for her fare back to the United Kingdom. The Thai authorities were apparently tipped off by the British embassy that Locke was suspected of drug trafficking, although it had no knowledge of Sandra Gregory. In the event, she was clearly compromised with undeniable possession.

Locke pleaded not guilty, and, with only Sandra's evidence against him, was acquitted--although, ironically, he was convicted of being in possession of heroin while in prison in Thailand and sentenced to three years. He has also been convicted of a heroin offence since his return to the United Kingdom.

Sandra had no option but to plead guilty, and was subsequently sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years. Sandra's offence was attempting to export drugs. Had she been caught with that amount-- 89 g--within Thailand, it would not have been an offence as it was under 100 g, which is the limit of what is regarded as being for personal use. The current street value of the drug is about £9,000.

Sandra was not motivated by greed--she was not planning to sell the drug or realise its value. She was accepting payment for acting as what is known in the trade as a mule. It was not, as some people have suggested, an act of greed but an act of irrational desperation by a sick and homesick young woman.

As it was a mandatory minimum sentence, mitigating circumstances were not considered. However, at the time of the offence, Sandra Gregory was suffering from dengue fever and amoebic dysentery, had lost more than 25 per cent. of her body weight and was desperate to get back to the United Kingdom. She was, in her mother's words,

Neither Sandra nor her parents--Stan and Doreen, who live in my constituency--deny that an offence was committed, or that Sandra should have been punished. The issue is entirely one of proportionality.

Under the Thai judicial system, the normal process of appealing for someone in Sandra's position is through an appeal to the King. Sandra was able to initiate that process only after conviction, which was delayed for three years, pending the outcome of Robert Locke's trial.

17 Jan 2000 : Column 660

Sandra is now completing the seventh year of her sentence, and still does not know when her appeal to the King will be considered. She was told that it would be before Christmas, then in the new year. The latest information is that it may not be for another six months which, in itself, is an added frustration.

The Government maintain that it is not policy to support clemency appeals for British nationals under foreign jurisdictions other than in exceptional cases, which seems to mean cases involving, for example, the terminal illness of the prisoner or a next of kin. United Kingdom practice, however, seems to differ very sharply from the practice of other Governments and does not even seem to be consistently applied by our own Government.

If Sandra Gregory were an Australian, she would receive automatic Government support for a clemency appeal. If Sandra were an American, she would have her sentence reduced to take account of time spent in a Thai prison. The Americans multiply Thai prison years by six. Therefore, Sandra's three years spent in a jail in Bangkok would have been regarded as 18 years in the American system, so that she would have been immediately eligible for parole on her return home and would now have been deemed to have served the entire sentence without remission.

The Dutch Government review the sentence of those who are transferred from conviction under foreign jurisdiction back to Holland against the domestic equivalent sentence. In Sandra's case, her sentence would have been a maximum of four years.

Since her return to the United Kingdom, Sandra has spent time in Holloway, Wakefield, and Durham maximum security wing, and she is currently at Cookham Wood, in Kent. She is serving the third longest sentence of any woman in a United Kingdom prison, with only Myra Hindley and Rosemary West serving longer sentences--life meaning life in both cases. While Sandra Gregory was in Durham, she was in the same wing as Rosemary West, and certainly felt great resentment that she was treated as being the same category of criminal.

The effect has been that Sandra Gregory--a first-time offender who bitterly regrets her crime and is repentant--has seen professional criminals, with a serious track record of serious crimes, come in and out of prison while she continues to languish.

A little over a year after Sandra's arrest, another British woman was arrested in Bangkok, trying to export 7 kg of heroin. On conviction, she was sentenced to life imprisonment. That sentence was reduced on appeal to 35 years and then to 25 years in a general amnesty. Recently, her appeal to the King for clemency, which has been heard even though she was arrested more than a year after Sandra Gregory, resulted in her sentence being reduced to 10 years. That appeal was apparently supported by United Kingdom Customs and Excise. How is that consistent with the Government's stated policy? The reason given to me was that she gave evidence leading to the conviction of other drug dealers. She is now eligible for parole, although she and her family are in such danger that they will have to find new identities. Patricia Hussain, the woman in question, had previous convictions for theft, fraud and prostitution and was carrying not 89 g of heroin, but 7 kg.

I have no doubt that Sandra Gregory, who met Patricia Hussain when they were in prison in Thailand, wishes her well, but she would not be human if she did not feel that

17 Jan 2000 : Column 661

there was some difference in approach. When Sandra's parents and I asked the Foreign Office for an explanation, Nicolette Smith of the consular division said in a letter on 30 November:

    "Consular confidentiality precludes my commenting on Patricia Hussain's situation."

I hope that the Minister might feel able to explain how the difference can be justified. It cannot be justice that someone convicted for a far more serious offence should get Government agency support and now be eligible for release while Sandra Gregory faces another four years before becoming eligible for parole.

Sandra's parents, Stan and Doreen, have supported their daughter throughout and worked for a fair assessment of her sentence. They have behaved with great dignity and quiet determination. They hurt to see her mood swings, and the prime years of her life wasting away. I participated in a live television programme with them in Aberdeen yesterday. They were not told in advance that there would be a video at the start of the programme showing Sandra's arrest and conviction and her obvious distress and resentment. I have nothing but respect for their ability to argue their case rationally in such circumstances.

In the past year, Stan and Doreen Gregory have sought and won support for Sandra's application for clemency from a wide cross-section of people. They have received the backing of the Church of Scotland, the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland and the Episcopal Church of Scotland. They have had the support of 35 Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops, including one archbishop. Fifty seven Members of Parliament from all parties, including former Cabinet Ministers, have signed a motion calling on the Government to support her appeal to the King. More than 30 Members of the Scottish Parliament have backed a similar motion. Many others have given public or private support.

I am as aware as any Member of Parliament of the seriousness of drugs crimes. I support the need for tough penalties, especially for traffickers, which Sandra Gregory was not. However, that does not mean that the normal rules of justice can be set aside. Sandra Gregory is as much a victim of drugs as many others. While she faces the prospect of at least another four years in jail before she is even eligible for parole, the serious dealers go free to carry on their trafficking. They have the power to escape while minnows such as Sandra Gregory are left to take the rap.

What assurances can the Minister give Sandra's family that the lack of British Government support for her appeal to the King will not prejudice her chances? Is that lack of support already contributing to the continuing delay in her appeal being heard? Does the Minister know why the delay has occurred and when a final hearing and adjudication will be carried out? What firm assurances can be given that the delay will not continue indefinitely? Will the Government make it clear, respectfully, to the King of Thailand that there is widespread support in the UK for Sandra's sentence to be reviewed and reduced?

Will the Government convey to the King the fact that lack of support is an issue of general policy, and does not mean that the British Government do not believe that there may be a strong case for clemency? Can the Minister deny, on the basis of the treatment of nationals of countries other than the UK and the outcome of the

17 Jan 2000 : Column 662

Hussain appeal, that it would now be appropriate for Sandra Gregory's sentence to be reduced to 10 years or less, making her now eligible for parole?

Sandra Gregory should be punished. She is being punished. Her parents are being punished. Is it not now time for mitigating circumstances to be fully considered? Should not her punishment be compared with her offence and the punishment of others? Is it not now disproportionate? Indeed, may her parents be right in believing that it may be in breach of the European convention on human rights? Does the Minister understand the hurt and offence--expressed to me yesterday--caused to Stan and Doreen Gregory by seeing Kosovo war criminals, who have been convicted of systematic cold-blooded mass murder, getting lighter sentences than their daughter? Are not these fair comparisons? Is not the Government in danger of unfairness and inconsistency?

Sandra Gregory is paying dearly for her crime. She should not be made a scapegoat for those who are not.

Next Section

IndexHome Page