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Case of Teresa Daniels

4.40 pm

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): In the time available to me, I should like briefly to summarise the chronological sequence of events in this case, to comment on the trial and appeals process, to describe the mitigating factors and to pose a series of relevant questions to the Minister of State.

On 12 June 1997, Teresa Daniels—hereafter referred to as Terry—was arrested at Las Palmas airport in Tenerife in the company of her companion Antonio Benavides, who was in possession of 3.8 kg of cocaine. On 17 June, five days later, Terry was released on bail. Shortly afterward, she suffered a near-fatal brain haemorrhage, but fortunately, as a result of early and effective medical intervention, she was saved and restored to health.

On 2 September 1997, Terry attended a court hearing that lasted one and a half hours, at which she was asked five questions and then told that she was free to go. More than six months later, on 27 March 1998, Terry Daniels was sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for drug trafficking—precisely the same sentence as was imposed on her co-defendant Mr. Benavides. He had previous criminal convictions; she did not. As I have mentioned, he had cocaine in his possession at the time of the arrest; she had none.

Terry's lawyer requested that she be given conditional liberty, which was granted to her. After a series of legal skirmishes, the first appeal by Terry's lawyers was heard on 12 November 1999. It was heard on the basis of written pleadings and dismissed in her absence. A copy of the judgment was never sent to her and her sentence of 10 years' imprisonment was confirmed. In January 2000, Terry lodged a second appeal and in February 2000, she travelled to the United Kingdom to have a medical check-up and it transpired that she needed to have a series of operations. In March 2000, in response to correspondence from me, the Spanish ambassador sent me a letter with a report from the Spanish directorate general of penitentiary institutions that stated that Terry had been released on 17 June 1997 "without further admissions".

In May 2002, more than two years later, an international search and arrest warrant was issued, and in June 2003, a formal request for extradition was made. In August 2005, the Home Office—in the person of the Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke)—agreed to her extradition and Terry was extradited in October 2005. Now she is in Topas prison in Salamanca near Madrid.

I said that I wanted to comment on the trial and the appeals process, and I shall do so in two very specific respects. One might be characterised as a comment on form and the other manifestly relates to substance. As far as the form is concerned, no translator was available during the trial. I must emphasise that, because I believe passionately that Terry has been ill treated. Terry did not understand and therefore could not effectively participate in the proceedings. She did not receive a copy of the judgment and, yes, such was the level of misunderstanding and lack of information that she thought that she was a witness at the hearing and not a defendant.
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On the matter of substance I make the point to the Minister of State that the evidence upon which Terry was convicted and then sentenced was scanty indeed. I do not think that I exaggerate when I say that it consisted overwhelmingly of the interpretation of an entry in her diary which referred to an expected payment. The interpretation put upon it was that she was recording an expectation of payment as a result of engagement in drug trafficking. In fact, as she explained, she was referring to a payment that was to come to her as a result of a personal injury claim. The official translation of the content of the diary was judged to be inadmissible, apparently on the grounds that it was out of time. It seems certain to me that Terry's human rights under the European convention were breached in two respects: by the failure to admit the official translation of the diary, which would have lent weight to her pleading, and by the theft of her diary.

I shall now discuss the mitigating factors in Terry's case, which I genuinely believe should be seriously and thoughtfully taken into account by the Minister. I referred a few moments ago to the reference in the letter that I received from the Spanish ambassador and the accompanying report to the phrase "without further admissions". It was surely not unreasonable of Terry Daniels to believe, when she had sight of that document, that the phrase "without further admissions" suggested that the case had been closed. That certainly was her view: she thought that the case had been dropped.

There are several other mitigating factors. Seven and a half years elapsed between Terry's original conviction and the start of her imprisonment. The Spanish authorities made little effort to detain her until Thames Valley police notified Interpol of her whereabouts. She has suffered from desperately bad health—I referred to her near-fatal brain haemorrhage, and she now suffers regular bouts of depression. In addition, in the course of this appalling, harrowing and seemingly interminable saga, she has lost her father; he died of cancer slightly less than five years ago.

It is inevitable that if Terry stays in prison for any length of time after such protracted delays and despite the real anxieties about the fairness of the trial, she will have a greatly reduced possibility of having a family. She is already in her early 30s and I believe that that is a relevant consideration in this case. In addition, the prison conditions that she is now experiencing are poor. It is difficult for her to communicate as she does not speak Spanish, and many of the people around her do not speak English or do not choose to communicate with her in her mother tongue.

On top of all that Terry endures separation from her remaining family. I ask the Minister to try to put himself in her position and to see the merit of my case That separation is a huge burden. Pat Daniels, her mother, is a magnificent woman, a supportive mother and a hard-working individual, but she could not by any stretch of the imagination be described as a person of means and it costs approximately £1,000 every time she goes to visit her daughter. All in all, the cumulative impact of the
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nature of the trial, the unsatisfactory character of the appeals process, the ongoing delay, the continued uncertainty and the absence of any obvious light at the end of the tunnel is putting an intolerable strain on Terry.

That leads me to my series of questions and challenges to the Minister. He knows that I hold him in the highest esteem—he is an immensely capable and intelligent Minister—so I hope that he will not take amiss what I am about to say as the prelude to my three questions. I, like many other hon. Members, have conducted a number of Adjournment debates over the years. It is not uncommon—in fact, it might be said to be a regular characteristic—to find substantial parts of ministerial speeches devoted to congratulating the hon. Member who has secured the debate and to repeating a considerable number of the difficult circumstances that the hon. Member has just spent some minutes describing. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that my ego is quite big enough, I do not require it to be inflated any further, and I am certain that he is familiar with the case, upon which there has been a great deal of correspondence. I would therefore be very grateful if he were to focus specifically on the questions that I am now about to ask.

I am immensely grateful to the Foreign Office for the visits by consular staff, and for the advice that they have proffered, but I wish to put the following question to the Minister. First, given that Terry seeks a pardon, will Her Majesty's Government support her request for it? Secondly, without prejudice to the first question and the Government's attitude to it, will the Minister expedite the application for Terry's transfer to the United Kingdom? Thirdly, if the transfer is successful, will the Government allow Terry to serve her sentence, or that part of it that she is still obliged to serve, in a low-security prison on the grounds that, manifestly, she poses no threat to public order or security?

I immensely appreciate my good fortune in being able to bring these matters to the attention of the Minister this afternoon. It is not my responsibility, so I shall not take it upon myself to say whether Terry Daniels is innocent or guilty. For my part, I believe that she is an honourable and decent person. It is, however, my responsibility to judge whether she has a reasonable case with which it is proper to trouble the Minister. I believe that she has.

Terry has been supported throughout her case by Fair Trials Abroad, an admirable organisation to whose distinguished director, Stephen Jakobi, and his indefatigable work on this case I pay the warmest possible tribute. She has been badly treated. I do not want her case to be forgotten. It should not go by the board. Pat Daniels has done her best to champion Terry's cause while trying to work for a living and to hold the family together in some way. Terry is in no position to act for herself, but she knows that this debate has been secured. If she is to have a chance to rebuild her family life, to consider the possibility of being able to start a family herself, and to build a constructive and happy future, I believe that she requires the assistance of the British Government. I am sure that the Minister is not only intelligent and competent, but decent and humane, and I look forward to his reply with interest and anticipation.
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4.54 pm

The Minister for Europe (Mr. Douglas Alexander) : Unusually, Mr. Bayley, before responding may I seek your guidance on whether, given the slightly late start of this debate, I shall have the full 15 minutes in which to respond to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman? If I shall, I shall direct my remarks in one way, but if we are more constrained by time, not least given the very specific—

Hugh Bayley (in the Chair): I can clarify for the right hon. Gentleman's benefit that the debate will conclude at ten minutes past 5.

Mr. Alexander : I am grateful for that clarification, Mr. Bayley. Given that assurance, hope to be able to answer the specific questions that have been put to me.

I assure the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) that it is due neither to a desire for obfuscation nor to a desire to adhere to protocol that I congratulate him on his eloquent description of the case that he has raised today. I hope to be able to reply directly to his points. However, it is important—not least on the ground of completeness—that I should take the opportunity to place in context the case that we are discussing in relation to the wider UK-Spain relations, which are relevant to this case, and to place on record our understanding of how we arrived at this point.

Before I discuss relations between the UK and Spain and address the specific points that have been put to me, it is important to note the close ties that the United Kingdom enjoys with Spain. Relations between the two countries are strong and deep. An estimated 677,000 Britons have chosen to make Spain their home: theirs is one of the largest British expatriate communities anywhere in the world. As one would expect, there is close co-operation on issues of justice and home affairs. The UK and Spain work together to improve Europe's response to common challenges such as immigration, and we have agreed fast-track extradition procedures between our two states. There is also extensive and valuable co-operation on health matters.

Let me now give a summary of the case before us today. As I said, the hon. Gentleman spoke eloquently about the background to Ms Daniels' case and the events surrounding her trial, extradition and imprisonment in Spain. As he knows, our consular staff in London and Spain have been following Ms Daniels' case closely and have been providing her and her family with all appropriate consular assistance. I assure the House and the hon. Gentleman that that assistance will continue.

The UK has important international obligations in matters of extradition, which it takes seriously. In Ms Daniels' case, the position at all material times was that she had already been convicted in Spain of serious drugs offences. She has sought unsuccessfully to appeal in Spain against a 10-year sentence. By the time the conviction was made final in January 2000, however, she had left the country. Not surprisingly, Spain's request for extradition followed. Pursuant to it, she was arrested in this country in June 2003. Bow Street magistrates committed her in June 2004, and an ensuing appeal to the High Court was dismissed in January 2005. It then fell to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to reach
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a final decision on Ms Daniels' surrender. In representations made against such an outcome, her UK solicitors relied in part upon the alleged lack of evidence against her. The solicitors contended, for example, that the Spanish evidence was not strong and relied almost entirely on entries in Ms Daniels' personal diaries, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Spain's request for Ms Daniels' extradition as a convicted person withstood judicial challenge here before Bow Street magistrates and the High Court. It is not and cannot be the proper function of the Home Secretary to delve into the safety of a conviction arrived at in the independent courts of another European Union country any more than it would be right, I submit, for Spanish authorities to appear to impugn the integrity of a conviction arrived at in our courts. The Home Secretary considered the whole case fairly and properly in the round, including the representations that were made to him on evidential, health and other grounds, some of which we have heard today. For reasons fully set out in a letter of 23 August 2005 to Ms Daniels' legal representatives, my right hon. Friend concluded that those considerations did not outweigh the case for surrender. It was open to Ms Daniels to apply for judicial review of that decision, but she elected not to do so. Her surrender to Spain was effected on 22 October 2005, in conformity with our international obligations.

The hon. Gentleman asks that the Government consider obtaining clemency for Ms Daniels. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will consider supporting a prisoner's plea for clemency in certain circumstances. Our policy is outlined in an answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) on 2 May 2001. With your permission, Mr. Bayley, I will take this opportunity to outline our policy for the benefit of all hon. Members. The answer given states:

It continues:

To answer the hon. Gentleman's first question, we would certainly consider any request from Ms Daniels to support a plea for clemency if those criteria were met. Ms Daniels should make her clemency plea to the Spanish authorities through a lawyer.

Implicit in that question was the possibility of remission. The hon. Gentleman asked whether Ms Daniels could be considered for possible remission of her sentence. There is provision under Spanish law for
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the early release of prisoners who are terminally ill or dying. I would advise Ms Daniels to investigate the Spanish procedures for granting remission and to obtain local legal advice on whether she could be eligible.

On the second specific question, I understand that Ms Daniels applied on 14 December 2005 to be transferred home to the United Kingdom to serve the rest of her sentence under the 1983 convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. Letters have been sent to the prison governor and Her Majesty's Prison Service transfer section by our consular staff with the information that she wishes to apply for transfer of sentence. As for how long it might take for such a transfer of sentence to the United Kingdom to be effected, prisoner transfers between the United Kingdom and Spain take place under the European convention on the transfer of sentenced persons. Any transfers from Spain to the United Kingdom must be agreed by the Spanish and British authorities as well as the individual involved. The time taken to consider and arrange a transfer varies from case to case, so it is difficult to give a precise answer. Our experience in previous cases suggests it can take two years or longer from application to transfer.

I listened to the specific point made by the hon. Gentleman about the nature of the establishment to which Ms Daniels would be returned in the United Kingdom. I am not clear at this juncture about the exact procedure by which that would be determined, but I or one of my colleagues in the Home Office will write to him about that.

For the record, I should outline the consular assistance that we have provided to Ms Daniels and her family. Consular staff were informed of Ms Daniels's arrival in Spain on 21 October 2005 following her extradition from the UK to Spain to complete her sentence. Our proconsul visited her in Madrid prison on 25 October. Ms Daniels said that she was anxious to be transferred to Las Palmas prison in the Canary islands where she had originally been imprisoned. Our proconsul maintained contact with the prison authorities, checking whether Ms Daniels would be transferred to another prison. We informed her on 7 November that she was to be transferred to Topas prison, Salamanca, near Madrid, and unfortunately not to Las Palmas prison as she had hoped. The honourable Gentleman will understand that it is for the Spanish authorities to place prisoners as they see fit, just as it is for Her Majesty's Prison Service in the United Kingdom to decide where to put detainees.

Ms Daniels saw the prison doctor and the social worker on her arrival at Madrid prison. With Ms Daniels's agreement, our consular staff arranged for copies of her United Kingdom medical records to be made available to the prison authorities in Spain. We also provided a short summary of the records in
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Spanish. A member of our consular staff again visited Ms Daniels when she was moved to Topas prison on 23 November 2005.

John Bercow : It is my view that there has been a miscarriage of justice, not least because of the character of the trial and appeal process that I described. I am sorry if the Government do not agree or are not prepared to contest the issue with the Spanish authorities. However, does the Minister consider it a relevant factor in the case that such a huge amount of time elapsed between Terry's original sentencing and the start of the sentence?

Mr. Alexander : Let me say with the greatest respect to the hon. Gentleman that I hoped that I had addressed his point earlier. I explained that on the basis of the extradition request—a direct consequence of Ms Daniels being back in the United Kingdom—a number of legal steps were taken between the original sentencing and her incarceration in Spain. If that offers no comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I hope that it at least explains the length of the intervening period when, as I described, proceedings were brought before Bow Street magistrates and then the High Court. Ultimately, there was a decision by the Home Secretary based on the specific points that I have outlined.

John Bercow : May I put on the record the fact that Terry Daniels has never made any secret of her address in Abbotts Way, Wingrave, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire? There was no problem of finding her, so that, at least, can be cast aside as a consideration in this matter.

Mr. Alexander : I made no such suggestion. I was making it clear that Ms Daniels was involved in a series of legal proceedings here in the United Kingdom. An additional factor that should to be borne in mind is that cases in Spain can take a long time to come to court.

In conclusion, let me say briefly that all of us involved in consular work appreciate that imprisoning any person in a foreign prison places enormous strain on the families involved, as it does on the individual detained. For the welfare of the prisoner and to ease the concerns of family members, consular staff take their duty of care to our prisoners in foreign prisons most seriously.

At this juncture, I too pay tribute to the work of Stephen Jakobi and Fair Trials Abroad. I know of the vital work that he and his organisation have taken on in a number of cases. However, I emphasise that we will maintain a close interest in Ms Daniels' welfare, while continuing to provide her and her family with all appropriate consular assistance.

Question put and agreed to.

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