Released Britons expected to be flown to border today

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SADDAM HUSSEIN yesterday pardoned and freed three Britons held in an Iraqi jail, after a personal appeal from Sir Edward Heath, writes Annika Savill.

Paul Ride, Michael Wainwright and Simon Dunn, whose release had clearly been negotiated before Sir Edward's visit, are due to fly with Sir Edward by helicopter to the Jordanian border today and on to Amman, from where they will fly to London.

Mr Ride, 33, and Mr Wainwright, 42, were jailed last year for seven and 10 years respectively for 'entering Iraq illegally'. Mr Dunn, 23, was arrested in June and jailed for eight years for the same offence.

The releases bring to nine the foreign prisoners President Saddam has pardoned since September to try to improve his international image, but he still holds some 30 nationalities, including a Frenchman and a German.

Sir Edward last night dismissed suggestions of any deal with Iraq. 'I have given no undertaking of any kind. I was not asked to give any undertaking,' he said.

Although British diplomats will not admit to any deal with President Saddam, they do admit Sir Edward has acted as informal intermediary over the past few weeks. In addition, Sir David Hannay, the British ambassador to the UN, has held talks with his Iraqi counterpart, Nizar Hamdoon.