Blunkett at fault over Iranian siege gunman's sentence

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The Independent Online

The only gunman to survive the 1980 Iranian embassy siege is still in jail because of the "disturbing inactivity" of David Blunkett, three senior judges said yesterday.

Fowzi Nejad, who was saved from being shot by the SAS when a hostage claimed he was her brother, has been incarcerated for 24 years.

Jailed for life for his part in causing "unspeakable terror, anguish and distress", Nejad has since claimed he was tricked by Iraqi intelligence services and was fearful for his family's safety.

Yesterday, the Home Secretary was criticised by three Court of Appeal judges who overturned his decision not to reduce Nejad's tariff from 25 to 22 years. "The papers before the court indicate a disturbing inactivity on the part of the Secretary of State," said Lord Justice Scott Baker, insisting that "urgent attention" should be given to the prisoner's future.

Nejad, 46, was one of six terrorists who kept the country on tenterhooks during the six-day siege of the embassy in Princes Gate, demanding autonomy for the southern region of Khuzestan and the release of 91 comrades from Ayatollah Khomeini's jails. When the SAS stormed the building on 5 May, he escaped the fate of the other terrorists by pretending to be a hostage.

When his deceit was discovered a female captive grabbed his legs and begged a soldier, who appeared to be dragging him back inside, to spare his life. Two hostages were killed.

Nejad was sentenced to five life terms after admitting conspiracy to murder, false imprisonment, possession of a firearm and two charges of manslaughter. The judge recommended a minimum of 20 years, which was increased to 25 after a recommendation from Lord Lane, who was the Lord Chief Justice.

In March 2000, Nejad's lawyers asked the Home Secretary to amend the tariff on the grounds that new evidence showed he had been tricked by the Iraqi intelligence services. They added he could not back out because he feared his family, who had fled from Iran to Iraq, would suffer.

Witness statements from a number of hostages described him as "considerate and gentle" to the women captives.

Because he was sentenced before the Criminal Justice Act transferred tariff powers from the Home Secretary to the courts, Mr Blunkett retained the right to certify the tariff and ignored a 22-year recommendation by Lord Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice. The prisoner lost his case in the High Court in October.

Lord Justice Scott Baker with Lord Justice Simon Brown and Lord Justice Keene ruled yesterday that Mr Blunkett had to base his decision on what a court would have ordered after asking the advice of the Lord Chief Justice.

Nejad, an Iranian, is still in a closed prison and it would be unusual for him to be released on licence without at least two years in open conditions, which the Parole Board has been unable to recommend.

The judges said that Mr Blunkett should say whether, and, if so, where, he intended to deport Nejad, or inform him of future release plans.

A Home Office spokesman said Mr Blunkett had abided by the original recommended tariff. Nejad's case would now be referred to the Parole Board.