The Pinochet Ruling: Millions and Thatcherite support ease detention

Pinochet's Routine
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ONCE AGAIN the plane was waiting on the asphalt and General Augusto Pinochet and his family had their bags packed to make what they believed would be a triumphant return home.

His influential supporters from Chile had flown to London and one of his British admirers, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, was in the Lords to phone in the expected good news.

But after yesterday's decision, the former dictator and alleged torturer and murderer will have to stay under house arrest at his rented house in Wentworth Estate, Surrey, at least a little longer. He is said to have been disappointed by not being freed immediately, but encouraged by the ruling that he cannot be extradited for crimes committed before 1988.

The general and his family have been staying at the home, rented by the Chilean government, for several months since his arrest while recovering from a back operation at the London Clinic in Harley Street. Since then he has been threatening to die in Britain as a "martyr to the Fatherland" and has been chairing meetings to plan his defence campaign. In the light of the Lords ruling, this will take on fresh impetus.

The former dictator has around him a support party of Thatcherites to advise and help fund his defence. They include Lord Bell, Lord Lamont, Paul Johnson, Patrick Robertson, the former PR man for Sir James Goldsmith's Referendum Party, and Robin Harris, an adviser to Baroness Thatcher.

Both the pro and anti-Pinochet camps have been engaged in a propaganda battle but when it came to financial muscle, the Pinochet camp was well ahead. As well as wealthy sympathisers in Britain, the Pinochet Foundation in Santiago, backed by businessmen, poured money into the campaign. More than pounds 2m was raised and hundreds of Pinochet supporters have been flown to Britain to show their "spontaneous loyalty" to the man accused of ordering 4,000 deaths.

At the Wentworth Estate, the general's life had set into a pattern of morning walks in the garden, accompanied by armed police, and afternoons of meetings with supporters. They can drink a cabernet sauvignon bottled for him by an admiring wine-grower in Chile, although the general is teetotal.

General Pinochet has became an avid reader of stories about himself in British and Chilean newspapers and is proficient at surfing the Internet for more. He is also writing his autobiography and there are well- thumbed volumes on the life of Napoleon, his hero.

In Chile there was consternation from Pinochet followers about the activities of the general's eldest son, Augusto, who raised money among anti- Castro exiles in Miami. He also appeared on Chilean television screaming wildly and calling his father's critics "beasts". An alarmed General Pinochet asked the foundation to curb his son's activities.

The PR firm Bell Pottinger was reportedly given a pounds 200,000 contract by the Pinochet Foundation and a series of stories was placed in sympathetic newspapers, with photo opportunities at the Wentworth Estate, where he repeated his protestations of innocence and threats to die in Britain.