Briton claims innocence of Iraqi charge

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PAUL RIDE last night declared his innocence of the charge which has left him facing seven years in an Iraqi jail.

Mr Ride, 33, speaking in a television interview recorded in Iraq, said: 'The only thing I am guilty of is gross ignorance. I am not guilty of coming across the border with malicious or vindictive intent.'

Mr Ride, from Walthamstow, north-east London, the father of a young boy, was sentenced to seven years in jail for illegally entering Iraq. He was arrested in June after apparently straying across the border from Kuwait, where he had been working for British catering company, Taylor International.

In the interview, the first since his ordeal began, he says Iraqi soldiers led him across the border before arresting him after he asked them for directions. He had gone to northern Kuwait to visit a friend and was following road signs when he lost his way.

He got out of his vehicle to check with a group of soldiers. One soldier then got into the car beside him and directed him towards an area where an Iraqi flag was flying. 'I said this is a problem. This is Iraq. He said no.'

Referring to the Gulf war, he said he had been arrested while travelling in a civilian vehicle, and was armed only with a calculator and cassettes. 'I got seven years and yet pilots who came in Tornados only got 45 days.'

Mr Ride's wife, Julie, 31, said she was pleasantly surprised by his appearance, which was filmed by a Swiss television crew and shown on Sky News.