Pinochet case 'bedevilled by chaos'

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ROBIN COOK, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday denied that the handling of General Augusto Pinochet's arrest had been "bedevilled by chaos and confusion", insisting the Government had followed scrupulously the due process of law.

But during heated exchanges, Michael Howard, the Tories' foreign affairs spokesman, claimed the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, would have had discretion not to authorise the grant of an arrest warrant and could have taken into account many factors, including "the implications of the arrest for the future of democracy in Chile".

Backbench MPs also lamented the lack of opportunity to express views on the arrest after their motions were withdrawn because the former dictator is awaiting his court hearing.

Mr Cook said during question time, to Labour cheers, the clear principle that politicians should not decide who is arrested and who is not arrested was being upheld.

"This is not some left-wing conspiracy ... this government is quite clear. Due process of law must be carried out and it must not be warped to fit anybody's political agenda."

But Mr Howard, a former home secretary, accused the Government of having failed to establish whether or not the Spanish government, as opposed to one Spanish judge, was applying for the extradition. "The handling of this arrest and the possible extradition has been bedevilled by chaos and confusion throughout," he said.

Mr Cook replied that Mr Straw was entirely proper in allowing the due process of law to proceed. He added: "Of course, we've had no contact on the question with the Spanish government.

"It would be deeply improper to do so. The extradition request is being processed by entirely competent legal authority in Spain."