Drugs smuggler swaps Bangkok cell for Holloway

Prisoners abroad: As a trafficker is told she can return to Britain, lawyers fight for the life of a convicted murderer in the US
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The Independent Online
A British teacher jailed for 25 years in Thailand for heroin smuggling is expected to be released on parole in about six years' time after being allowed to serve the remainder of her sentence in a British prison.

Sandra Gregory, 31, will be transferred from her Bangkok cell to Holloway Prison, London, in the next eight to 10 weeks, after the British and Thai authorities agreed the move.

Family and friends of Gregory, who is from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, yesterday said they were delighted. Gregory has already served four years and two months of her sentence at the notorious "Bangkok Hilton" jail.

She is the sixth British citizen jailed in Thailand to be granted permission to complete their sentence in the United Kingdom under a treaty agreement.

She was arrested at Bangkok airport with Robert Lock, from Cambridge, in February 1993, as the pair were about to board a flight to Japan. Gregory, who was found with 102 grammes of heroin in her possession, pleaded guilty but told the court Lock had paid her to smuggle the heroin out of Thailand.

Mr Lock was found not guilty last year. A British embassy official testified that Thai officials had been tipped off that he was a trafficker, and searched Gregory only because she checked in with him.

Gregory was jailed for 25 years for heroin smuggling in February 1996. An original death sentence was commuted because she had confessed.

Under Thai law, Gregory could apply to be repatriated to serve the remainder of her sentence after a minimum of four years. She made an appeal for repatriation last May.

Under British law, a convicted prisoner is eligible for parole after serving half the sentence, therefore Gregory can apply in about six years. She is likely to be successful providing she is not considered a danger to society.

She will initially be held at Holloway Prison where she will be assessed and categorised. She will then be able to apply for a move to a prison nearer to her family and friends.

Jackie Cox, of the Friends of Sandra Gregory group, said: "We are absolutely delighted, it's great news. It seems strange to be celebrating the fact that someone is coming into Holloway Prison to serve probably six years."

She added: "She is not having her sentence cut, that's quite clear ... It is a humanitarian move which allows for a prisoner to move closer to their family."

But the mother of Robert Lock, who was cleared of assisting Gregory, said she still felt bitter against the prisoner who she claims falsely implicated her son. She said: "I don't think anyone who is human would be overjoyed, do you? How would you answer that if it was your son?"

"It's very difficult but I really am more interested in a few other male prisoners out there who don't have the benefit of a private lawyer as she did."

But she added: "She's served her sentence, she's been punished. She was only carrying three ounces of heroin, and she was punished far more harshly than in this country. What is the point of keeping her in? She's not likely to reoffend."

Behind bars in foreign prisons

t Under Thai law, a foreign prisoner who has served a certain time can apply to be repatriated to serve the rest of the sentence. The number of years already served varies, according to the charges.

t There are at present 1,879 British citizens in foreign jails either awaiting trial or having been convicted or a crime. There are about 30 in Thai jails, mostly on drug offences.

t So far, 100 people have been returned to British jails, under treaty agreements with 39 countries.

t Under British law a convict is eligible for parole after serving half his or her sentence.