Former cult members win reprieve over deportation

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The Independent Online
TWO British former members of a religious sect who were due to be handed over to US marshals today on charges of conspiracy to murder were given leave yesterday to challenge their extradition.

Sally Croft, 44, and Susan Hagan, 47, were due to be handcuffed and taken from Heathrow airport. At 5.54pm yesterday, their bags packed, they were told that a High Court judge had given leave to seek a judicial review of a decision by Lord Ferrers, Minister of State at the Home Office.

The women cannot be extradited until their application has been heard, probably within two weeks. It is likely that that review will be adjourned until next month, when the House of Lords is due to hear an appeal that could have a bearing on their case.

'We were squealing when the news came over,' said Ms Croft, a chartered accountant in the City of London. 'It has been a fraught and exhausting time emotionally and physically and I had said goodbye to my family and friends. I'm just relieved I'm not going to be on that plane to who knows what.

'We always said we wouldn't give up hope and I believed some sanity would enter the system. We're not out of the woods yet, but with each step more people are made aware

of what the Home Secretary is prepared to see happen to British

citizens.'

Alun Jones QC argued that it was unreasonable of Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, to have authorised their extradition when the Lords was about to hear the appeal of a German, Norbert Schmidt, which could change the law. Mr Howard had delegated responsibility for the decision to Lord Ferrers.

The Lords ruled recently that where there has been an abuse of incoming extradition procedures cases should be referred back to the Divisional Court. The Schmidt hearing is expected to raise the question of whether abuses in outgoing procedures should also be referred to the courts or to the Home Secretary as at present.

If the Home Secretary's role is bypassed, Ms Hagan, an aromatherapist with two children, and Ms Croft will argue that a delay of nine years in trying them amounts to such an abuse. They deny plotting to kill a US state attorney while members of the Bhagwan Rajneesh sect. The attorney was not harmed, but they face between 20 years and life imprisonment if convicted.

Andrew McCooey, their solicitor, said there was little chance of a fair trial in Oregon, where the Bhagwan was despised. 'The attorney who was supposed to be at the centre of the plot has already been on television to say he is frightened that Susan and Sally are going over. He says he sleeps with a gun.'

Leading article, page 17

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