Foiled airline bomber challenges release refusal

A man jailed for 45 years for plotting to blow up an Israeli airliner today challenged the Government's refusal to accept the Parole Board's recommendation to release him.

Nezar Hindawi, who is serving what is believed to be the longest specific jail term imposed by an English court, was sentenced in 1986 for attempting to blow up an El-Al aircraft flying from Heathrow to Tel Aviv.

He hid explosives in the luggage of his pregnant fiancee without her knowing, but the explosives were detected and the plot foiled - avoiding a potential loss of 375 lives.

Hindawi's counsel, Tim Owen QC, told Lord Justice Thomas and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies at London's High Court that Justice Secretary Jack Straw's November 2009 decision - adopted by his successor Kenneth Clarke - was irrational and unlawful.

He said that the Secretary of State had been "implacably opposed" to Hindawi's release throughout the parole process.

He was represented throughout the current parole review, and argued vigorously against release, including making written submissions before any evidence had even been heard.

Following the Parole Board's decision, he moved from being a party to the process to being the decision maker, deciding not to release Hindawi for essentially the same reasons as he had advanced before the Board, and which it had comprehensively rejected after careful consideration.

Counsel said: "The key issue is to what extent is the Secretary of State entirely free to form his own view without in effect giving any weight at all to the views of the Parole Board."

"His approach in reality is that he is entirely free to ignore the Board and can reach his own view, despite the fact there was a four-day oral hearing and that he is not an appropriate decision-maker and lacks the expertise and independence which the Parole Board has."

He told the judges: "The fundamental question, accepting as you must that historically this was a decision which was in the hands of the Secretary of State, is what is the Secretary of State's duty when looking at this recommendation?

"His case is that he attaches whatever weight he chooses, and that if it is none at all, that's OK.

"Our case is that, because of its complexity and the fact it was an oral hearing, this was a decision taken by an independent expert body which should have attracted the very greatest weight."

Hindawi won the right to a parole hearing after a long legal battle.

His release date falls in May 2016 but he became eligible for parole, after serving one third of his sentence, in April 2001.

The Home Secretary refused to allow his early release in April 2003.

The current contested hearing is expected to last up to two days.