Pinochet family `prefer UK trial'

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THE SON of General Augusto Pinochet said yesterday he would prefer his father to go on trial in England if he had to, because he would not get a fair hearing in the Spanish courts.

Marco Antonio Pinochet, who is in London this week visiting the former Chilean dictator, confirmed that the fight against extradition to Spain would continue, dismissing suggestions made earlier last week that his father would go to Madrid voluntarily. "I prefer the trial be held in England because in Spain it will not be fair," he told the BBC.

He said that his 83-year-old father, who faces charges of human rights abuses, wanted to prove his innocence through the extradition process, but his health was deteriorating.

"Go direct to Spain? No. We are thinking that we have to keep to the process that has already started. In Spain he is already judged," Mr Pinochet said.

Two senior Chilean military commanders are in Britain this weekend to assess the state of General Pinochet's health and talk with his lawyers.

The head of the Chilean navy, Jorge Arancibia, brought forward the date of his visit after concern that the former dictator's health had deteriorated since his arrest last October.

Earlier, General Pinochet's son, a 41-year-old businessman, appealed for his father to be allowed home following a medical report, compiled at the request of the Chilean government, which warned that he could die in captivity. The general is said to suffer from diabetes, heart disease, prostate problems and arthritis.

"We are very worried that during the process that could be very long, I don't know how long, he could die," said Mr Pinochet.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, has been advised by lawyers that if the general's health deteriorates he should ask the Spanish authorities to withdraw the extradition request.

Yesterday, Spanish newspapers reported that Spain had rejected Chile's proposal for bilateral arbitration to decide General Pinochet's fate, because it had emerged that the government was powerless to halt the process.

General Pinochet is due to appear before Bow Street magistrates on 27 September for a five-day hearing to decide whether he will be extradited to Spain to face trial on charges of torture and conspiracy to torture.