Pinochet must get out, says hospital

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The Independent Online
AUGUSTO PINOCHET, the former Chilean dictator, was last night told to leave the private hospital where he had been staying because he was "fit and no longer requires specialist medical care".

The decision by Grovelands Priory hospital is not only a humiliating rebuff for the general, but would also now make it very difficult for Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, to return him to Chile on compassionate grounds of ill health.

Following the ruling by the law lords that General Pinochet was not immune from prosecution as a former head of state, ill health was one of the few grounds for his release left to Mr Straw. The former dictator and life senator faces extradition to Spain on charges of genocide, terrorism and torture.

The general had been moved to Grovelands in Southgate, north London. He had been moved there from the London Clinic where he had undergone a back operation.

The hospital management has told the general and his entourage to find alternative accommodation as soon as possible, and is said to be unhappy about their lack of urgency to do so.

Paul Jarman, a spokesman for the hospital, said: "Grovelands Priory is preparing to discharge General Pinochet from its care. It was stated in open court... that General Pinochet was fit enough to appear at an initial bail hearing. In the opinion of Priory Healthcare, he no longer requires the specialist medical and nursing care provided at Grovelands Priory.

Some patients at the hospital are said to have been unhappy at having the general, accused of ordering almost four thousand deaths, staying there. There have also been daily vigils outside the hospital by former torture victims and human rights activists.

Friends and supporters of the general have been looking for alternative accommodation for him, but with limited success. They are believed to have finally found a residence in Virginia Water, Surrey, after agreeing to insurance against bomb, rocket or firearm damage.

General Pinochet is on bail under condition that he stays within the confines of Grovelands Priory hospital, and remains under police guard. The bail conditions will have to be altered if he is moved, and Scotland Yard will have to approve a new venue for his stay.

It has emerged that Mr Straw has sent a clear message to Tony Blair not to intervene over whether to allow the extradition of the general to proceed. The Home Secretary had made it clear to other members of the Cabinet through the Whitehall machine that he did not want any pressure put on him by other interested departments, including Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, or George Robertson, the Secretary of State for Defence.

A Whitehall source said: "The message we are getting very strongly is that he doesn't want to be lobbied by anybody, including No 10. The only people he is prepared to talk to about it are his close civil servants and officials."

This was echoed by senior Home Office sources who denied that any deal had been done with Chile following the visit of the country's Foreign Minister, Jose Miguel Insulza. They insisted that Mr Straw was treating the matter in his quasi-judicial role, and his room for political manoeuvring was " very, very limited. He is prepared to let the law take its course for the time being".

Mr Insulza arrived in Spain to lobby for General Pinochet's freedom yesterday to be given a red carpet welcome. Spanish ministers are privately said to wish the extradition proceedings had never been started.

Hugh O'Shaughnessy, Review, page 4