Home Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 644

Back to Report

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 21 February 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Steve McCabe

Alun Michael

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witness

Witness: Michael Turner, gave evidence.

Q280 Chair: This is an ongoing inquiry into extradition, which the Committee will conclude next week when we will hear evidence from the Attorney-General.

Mr Turner, thank you very much for coming in to give evidence to this Committee. Some members of the Committee were present in the debate on 5 December when your local Member of Parliament, Richard Drax, spoke very powerfully about your case. We are concerned with the issue of extradition, not just to the United States but also to other European countries. We will return in the future to looking specifically at the European Arrest Warrant, which of course was the subject of the reason why you were sent back to Hungary. Can you tell the Committee about the current circumstances? When are you due back in Hungary?

Michael Turner: I am due back in Hungary on 29 February, so next Friday. Sorry, not this Friday, the next Friday. I fly out on the Monday for a few days with my lawyer before I go to court and this is the first hearing in the case.

Q281 Chair: Is it the case that when you were extradited on the last occasion-obviously you are returning voluntarily to Budapest for this hearing-there was an extradition and you went to Hungary and you spent four months in Hungary without having been charged with any criminal offence whatsoever? Is that right?

Michael Turner: Yes. I am not exactly sure the way the system works, but there was a European Arrest Warrant out in my name. I surrendered to the warrant. I was on bail in England for a year because I opposed the warrant. I didn’t want to be extradited; I didn’t feel that I should be extradited. I was then extradited to Hungary and while they continued the investigation I was obviously kept on remand in a remand centre in Hungary.

Q282 Chair: Can you tell us the conditions in that remand centre?

Michael Turner: It was 23 hours in a cell. You are allowed to go out for an hour walking. My personal walking was in a roof cage above the prison, so it is quite confined conditions anyway. Sometimes the temperature could get to minus 20. Obviously I didn’t pack my winter clothes or any thermals or anything like that. So a lot of the time I just stayed in the cell rather than go out in the cold conditions, because you couldn’t go out for five minutes and then come back in; you had to stay out there for an hour. It got quite cold.

Q283 Chair: You had not been charged with any offence. Were you served with any papers, or did you have access to any lawyers?

Michael Turner: I had a brief interview when I arrived in Hungary. They took me to the police station and tried to get me to sign some paperwork.

Q284 Chair: Was that in English or Hungarian?

Michael Turner: It was in Hungarian. I had a translator who sort of roughly translated things, but I didn’t want to sign anything obviously without my lawyer being present. It was so late at night-I think it was about midnight or something like that-the lawyer was not present and they were trying to force me to sign it, basically. They had to get my signature on a piece of paper. In the end I wrote, "I will not sign this without my lawyer present", and signed it that way instead, just to try to cover my own back on that one.

Q285 Chair: What kind of support did you have, incidentally, from the British Embassy in Hungary?

Michael Turner: I didn’t get any support until my father contacted them. They asked me in the police station if I wanted the embassy contacted. When I said yes they said, "There is no point in contacting them. They won’t want to know". Also when I tried to say I would like to phone home they said, "No, we can’t afford for you to phone home", and sort of laughed at me. It was my father who contacted the embassy, who I think came to see me on the second or third day that I was in prison, who gave me some brief information on the prison systems in Hungary that I later found to be incorrect. Obviously their support was there and they tried to help but they couldn’t do too much towards the judicial side of things. They brought in a magazine for me to read and something like that, which was quite helpful.

Q286 Chair: This went on for four months. Before you went off to Budapest, was there a hearing here when any of the evidence was tested?

Michael Turner: In England? No.

Q287 Chair: Were any papers served on you before you were extradited, indicating the case against you?

Michael Turner: Just the European Arrest Warrant.

Q288 Chair: That is it? No information as to why you were being asked to return to Hungary?

Michael Turner: No. We employed a lawyer in Hungary to go and look at the evidence to try to sort this out even before we were extradited to cause less hassle, but the police refused to release the evidence because the investigation had not finished. So we tried to work on it before we went, but we were not allowed.

Q289 Chair: After four months you were then released and you returned to the United Kingdom. Is that right?

Michael Turner: Yes, that is correct.

Q290 Chair: When was it you were then asked to go back to Budapest?

Michael Turner: The night before I was released they asked me to sign a piece of paper, put my home address on the piece of paper and said, "You agree to go to the police station on 4 April", I think it was. I said, "Fine, no problem". But they didn’t say, "This is because we are releasing you". The next day I was just sort of ushered out the door and found myself in Budapest.

Q291 Chair: On your own?

Michael Turner: Yes, on my own. No one else knew about it.

Q292 Chair: How did you get back to the UK?

Michael Turner: Luckily I had a mobile phone, which I managed to charge and contact my lawyer in Hungary who translated the paperwork that said I must pick up my passport from a certain office, and then he contacted the police to ask questions-"Can he return to England?" and this, that and the other.

Q293 Chair: What did the British Embassy do for you when you were released?

Michael Turner: They kindly met me and helped me arrange a temporary passport, because my passport was out of date at the time.

Q294 Chair: You got back here?

Michael Turner: I managed to come back to England.

Q295 Chair: On this occasion, this latest occasion when you are going back next week, has there been a hearing of any kind?

Michael Turner: Not a hearing. No, this will be the first hearing.

Q296 Chair: No, a hearing in the United Kingdom?

Michael Turner: Not in the United Kingdom, no.

Q297 Chair: So, in effect, throughout this entire process you have never had a hearing as such?

Michael Turner: In the United Kingdom I had many hearings for the extradition.

Q298 Chair: For the extradition, but not on the substance of the case?

Michael Turner: Not for the case, no. We were never allowed to hear the evidence of the case.

Chair: Thank you. My colleagues will have other questions for you.

Q299 Mr Winnick: One or two questions, Mr Turner. Obviously we are concerned about the general position of extradition. As regards conditions, and you were describing the situation earlier, is it the case that you were not even allowed to have a shower?

Michael Turner: One shower a week. I think it was Thursdays.

Q300 Mr Winnick: Family parcels?

Michael Turner: Family parcels were received. Once a month you were allowed a parcel but they seemed to have great difficulty in getting it to me from the UK. They had to be labelled correctly. Obviously certain things were not allowed, which we sort of learned as we went along. So it was difficult to get-

Q301 Mr Winnick: As regards communications in prison, presumably you do not speak Hungarian.

Michael Turner: Very little.

Mr Winnick: Neither do I. Were any of the officials in prison able to speak to you in English?

Michael Turner: I remember one or two of the guards spoke a little bit of English now and again. The social worker on the prison floor couldn’t speak any English. She would get a translator from one of the other cells, so one of the other inmates would translate. Obviously I felt a little bit uncomfortable with this because you wouldn’t want to say anything bad about anyone else because it would go straight back into the system.

Q302 Mr Winnick: Should we take the view that in the main you were held in a way that did not show any respect to you-indeed, contempt?

Michael Turner: I think so, yes. After four months I left the prison, I had muscle fatigue. My legs hurt for days afterwards because of the lack of exercise.

Q303 Mr Winnick: There was no brutality shown towards you? Contempt but not brutality; is that how you would put it?

Michael Turner: Verbal abuse. I did receive verbal abuse, although I couldn’t understand most of it, so I am not sure if that is classed as verbal abuse, to be quite honest.

Q304 Mr Winnick: No physical abuse?

Michael Turner: No, no physical abuse.

Q305 Chair: But it was done in an aggressive manner, so you thought it was abuse.

Michael Turner: Well, someone translated in the cell afterwards and said, "He said this, this and this".

Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.

Q306 Michael Ellis: Mr Turner, the European Arrest Warrant is what we are looking at. It is apparently available only for the purposes of conducting a criminal prosecution or executing a custodial sentence or a detention order. In other words, it applies where a prosecution is being levied or where a sentence is to be passed. It appears as though you were subject to a European Arrest Warrant when no decision had been made even to prosecute you. Is that correct?

Michael Turner: Yes, it looked a bit premature. They have now sent papers through to say they are ready to go to court and they would like to prosecute. This is two to three years later.

Q307 Michael Ellis: Have you received legal advice here in the United Kingdom about this?

Michael Turner: Well, Fair Trials International and-

Q308 Michael Ellis: Is it your understanding, therefore, that you were unlawfully detained in Hungary for those four months? You were reacting to a European Arrest Warrant that was invalid inasmuch as it did not apply in order to aid a prosecution, but no prosecution had been levied at the time that you went over there.

Michael Turner: Yes. My sending may have been unlawful. When you get into Hungary, I presume Hungarian law takes place and they can hold you for three years on remand.

Q309 Michael Ellis: But it was a misuse of the European Arrest Warrant; is that your understanding and advice?

Michael Turner: Yes, I believe so.

Q310 Michael Ellis: So you can be said to have suffered an appalling miscarriage of justice, can you not? You were not effectively detained lawfully for that four-month period, were you?

Michael Turner: I don’t think I was. I think there were lots of big mistakes made. I don’t even think I was arrested when I arrived in Hungary. I was just told to, "Be quiet and do as we say".

Q311 Michael Ellis: I am very concerned about this because there appears also, to me, to be a violation of the principle of natural justice. The translation difficulties that you had, the failure to communicate with the British diplomatic authorities in Budapest and other aspects seem to indicate a complete failure on the part of the Hungarians to meet their international obligations. Is that your understanding?

Michael Turner: Definitely.

Q312 Michael Ellis: Has anyone been in touch with the Hungarian authorities here in London to ask them to explain their conduct of this matter?

Michael Turner: I believe a few people have tried to communicate with them.

Q313 Michael Ellis: Have they responded, do you know?

Michael Turner: I think they responded initially but after that they have kept very quiet.

Q314 Michael Ellis: Is it right that you are facing criminal charges in Hungary for the recovery of a debt?

Michael Turner: I am accused of fraud but in the thing I got through recently-it’s called my writ in penal case-it says, "Fraud causing minor damage committed in a business operation and other crimes".

Q315 Michael Ellis: That is what it might say but I do not have confidence in Hungarian legal documents at the moment. Shall we ask you what your understanding is of what the criminal charge is against you, or would be against you if they bothered to levy one?

Michael Turner: Fraud, I believe.

Q316 Chair: Thank you. That is sufficient. Mr Ellis, we will come back to you if you have more questions. James Clappison has a question. Sorry, I should say but you deny this?

Michael Turner: Yes, of course.

Q317 Mr Clappison: Can you tell us a little bit more about exactly what happened when you arrived in Hungary after the execution of the warrant. You arrived at, presumably, Budapest Airport?

Michael Turner: Yes. I drove myself to Gatwick Airport. I met a female officer, an English officer, who handed us over to four Hungarian officers.

Q318 Mr Clappison: At Gatwick?

Michael Turner: At Gatwick Airport. They wanted to search us. I think they pulled out some handcuffs at some point as well and the police lady there said, "No, there is no need for that. They are not dangerous". We were then taken on the plane. When we arrived in Hungary we were taken off to a side room at the airport and we were sat down. This is where we were handed over to District 5 Police, I think, and a man said to us we must not talk and we must do as he says. Then we were handcuffed and led back through arrivals where the people from our plane were collecting their luggage, handcuffed on a lead and they were sort of pulling us along, and then bundled into the back of a van-no seat belts or anything like that, so I had to carry my bag and-

Q319 Mr Clappison: Did they tell you that you had any-could you communicate with these people? Did they speak English?

Michael Turner: He obviously said, "Be quiet and do as we say" in English, so maybe he could speak a little bit of English. When he said, "Be quiet and do as we say", I wasn’t starting a conversation with him. He seemed quite a scary guy.

Q320 Mr Clappison: You were not told anything about the system. What was happening?

Michael Turner: In this country when I surrendered to the warrant I met with the English police officer at the Magistrates’ Court in London. As we were walking in and up the stairs he said, "At this moment I must arrest you to surrender for the warrant". In Hungary nothing like that happened.

Q321 Mr Clappison: When you arrived in Hungary, and you have told us about that and you were put into the prison, you were interviewed once, I think that is right to say, by the police about the substantive charges?

Michael Turner: Yes. I think it was a few months in. It may have been the first or second month I was there I finally got interviewed by the police.

Q322 Mr Clappison: You were there from 2 November until 26 February.

Michael Turner: Yes. It must have been December, I think, some time when I was first interviewed.

Q323 Mr Clappison: So you had one interview with the police. Did you have any sort of hearing to decide what should happen to you or not?

Michael Turner: Yes. After the first three days we were put in front of a judge. We went to a court where he decided what was going to happen to us. We were taken into the room. The first time I met my lawyer as well was outside this room. I was taken in and it was basically, "Right, stand up. Now, explain", through a translator. There were lots of things going on and the translator was saying, "Well, now they’re talking about this, and now they’re talking about that". None of the translation seemed to make any sense. It was just very generalised. I didn’t know whether he had any paperwork about the case or anything like that.

Q324 Mr Clappison: Were you given any understanding of why you had been arrested and why you were being held in custody?

Michael Turner: I think maybe they tried to explain this the first day we arrived at the police station-this paperwork that I was supposed to sign, but the translation was poor and I wasn’t going to sign anything.

Q325 Mr Clappison: Okay. So you had the hearing and you had the interview and then you have told us you were released at the end of February 2010. From what you have told us it seems to be quite random-you were just released.

Michael Turner: Yes, there was no explanation for it.

Q326 Mr Clappison: There was no trigger for it. There was no hearing or anything like that?

Michael Turner: No. Inside the prison I had a guy in the cell who could speak a bit of English. He had been there two years in that cell and he explained to me that nobody is released or goes to court before six months, so I could look at least being there for six months before anything happened-so four months, I was quite relieved.

Q327 Dr Huppert: Mr Turner, it seems quite clear, to me at least, that you were maltreated in Hungary, but can I just come back to what happened in the UK, because hopefully we have more control over what happens here. Do you think that the British judicial system knew all of the relevant facts before they ordered your extradition, or were there things that they just did not know about and hence made the wrong decision?

Michael Turner: Obviously I can’t say what they knew and what they didn’t know. We tried to put a case forward saying that they were still in the investigation stages, and that they were not ready to prosecute. I don’t want to say it was ignored, because it was discussed in the manuscript, but it was sort of passed over. I am not sure if they went back and said, "That is a valid point. We will research into that ourselves", but they just didn’t seem to believe us when we said that.

Q328 Dr Huppert: So you told the court that it was still being investigated but they still proceeded-

Michael Turner: We showed them evidence. We said, "It’s still being investigated because we are not allowed to look at the evidence. Our lawyer in Hungary is not allowed to look at the evidence because they are still in the investigation stage, so why are we being sent across for a prosecution?"

Q329 Dr Huppert: There are lots of people who have been caught up with extradition problems and a whole range of things. Just two weeks ago I met Janis Sharp to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Gary McKinnon’s arrest. I saw Richard O’Dwyer and there is a whole long list of others. Are you aware of any others who have fallen into a similar category to you, or are you unique in this case?

Michael Turner: I think my dad got a few phone calls while I was in prison, because we put ours out on the internet and it was quite publicised. He got phone calls from people saying, "I have been in a similar situation. I have been caught on a border crossing and then suddenly thrown off to another country. Nothing has happened and I have been released. What is going on? Very confused with the situation". So I believe there are people out there who are being investigated and are being moved across to different countries, not being fully told what is going on, and they are suddenly released when they find out the investigation has not led anywhere. I don’t think it is a unique case as such but just one that is quite well documented.

Dr Huppert: If you do come across any other details, or if anybody following this is aware of any, I think it would be useful to know how often this occurs.

Q330 Alun Michael: You have obviously had an experience that we have not shared. In the light of this, as a person who has been on the receiving end, what would you like to see done in terms of changing the European Arrest Warrant system?

Michael Turner: Personally, I would say definitely look into the evidence. I have now got to see my evidence in my case and I think there is evidence in there to squash the European Arrest Warrant, that they are obviously-I don’t know who looked at the evidence to make up the warrant but it is obviously not true. So I would like for you guys to have, or the court system to have, more power into looking into them. I feel it was overlooked that they weren’t ready for prosecution, even though we tried to prove that case. I would have thought the courts would say, "Okay, we will find out exactly if they are ready".

Q331 Alun Michael: In effect, the UK courts, the UK authorities, ought to be provided with information that shows that they are ready to proceed with the case at that stage?

Michael Turner: Yes, I think so. It was a simple question for us. We asked a lawyer to go to the police: "Are you ready to prosecute?" "Oh no, we are still investigating". We found it rather simple.

Q332 Alun Michael: It certainly was not clear at the first stage what you were being charged with. Is it clear now or is it still unclear?

Michael Turner: It does change from translation to translation. It is fraud, misdemeanour. I understand what they are trying to do-

Alun Michael: But it is not precise.

Michael Turner: -but I can’t relate it to the evidence that they have collected and things like this.

Q333 Alun Michael: Have you been provided with full details of what the case against you is?

Michael Turner: I have now started to receive it, yes-translated.

Alun Michael: But only started?

Michael Turner: Yes, because they have only just finished the investigation. They wouldn’t release all the evidence until they had finished and now I am getting it through. I think it was dated December but I only received it at the end of January translated.

Alun Michael: So you haven’t yet had the full disclosure of the case against you?

Michael Turner: No. Apparently there are 16,000 pages of evidence to look through.

Chair: Mr Turner, thank you very much for giving evidence to us today. I have spoken to members of the Committee and I will write to the Hungarian Government to express our deep dissatisfaction about the way in which you have been treated, because we find this to be thoroughly unsatisfactory. We don’t believe that this is the way in which the warrant should operate, where people should be extradited and there should be a fishing expedition to find out what has gone wrong. But of course that does not help you in your case because this is something that has gone before you.

Members of the Committee have also asked me to write to the Hungarian Ambassador to ask him to come before the Committee to explain what has happened in this case, but also to look at these matters as matters of principle that we will look into as well. Thank you very much for coming into the Committee today and the best of luck for next week.

Michael Turner: Thank you very much. Thank you for inviting me.

Prepared 29th March 2012