Ministers have cancelled - for the fifth time - a meeting with the families of the Guantanamo detainees, signalling fading hopes for an early release of the British suspects.
The fathers of two of the detainees as well as representatives of the British Muslim community were to meet the Foreign Office minister, Baroness Symons, today for a progress report and for the families to air their grievances.
But, on Friday, they were told the minister had priority commitments and would be unable to meet them.
Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, the leader of the British Muslim Parliament, who was to accompany the families to Westminster, described the last-minute cancellation as "shameless". He said: "Time and time again we are let down by the Government who simply can't give us the assurances we are seeking. This is very disappointing and frustrating. It shows that Tony Blair has no leverage with George Bush whatsoever."
For Azmat Begg, father of Moazzam Begg, 36, arrested in Pakistan in February 2002 and transferred to Guantanamo Bay, this is the fifth time in two years ministers have cancelled his meeting.
Dr Siddiqui said: "We are dealing with ministers who have no shame or concern for the detainees' well-being. I would like to ask the ministers how they would feel if it was their son who had been taken to such a place ... How would they sleep?"
Riasoth Ahmed, father of Rhuhel Ahmed, 20, who was captured in Afghanistan where he was attending a wedding, said that he was very "disappointed" that Baroness Symons could not see him. "I was looking forward to it very much but at the last minute I got a telephone call saying the meeting had been cancelled. They didn't give me any reason," said Mr Ahmed, from Tipton, Staffordshire, who has met once with ministers. He said that he suspected the Government had failed to secure a deal with the Americans.
Mr Begg, a retired bank manager from Birmingham, says his son's only crime was to be travelling in a country invaded by the Americans.
The Begg family want to raise with the Government the conditions under which Moazzam, a Birmingham bookshop owner, is being held. "There is evidence that he may have been tortured - not just psychologically tortured but physically tortured," he said.
Louise Christian, the solicitor representing the family of Feroz Abbasi, from London, said yesterday that Mr Abbasi's mother had given up seeking answers from ministers. She said: "This latest failure to meet with the families shows there are now splits within the Cabinet about whether the detainees should be repatriated." Ms Christian said reports that that the Home Secretary, David Blunkett, was blocking such a move appeared to be confirmed by the decision to cancel the meeting.
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said Baroness Symons cancelled the meeting because she had to travel abroad on the request of the Prime Minister. He said she deeply regretted cancelling the meeting and hoped to reschedule. He said: "Ministers have already met a number of the families and their lawyers." But he declined to discuss the details of any individual family's meeting.
Last night, Ms Christian cast doubt on reports of the possibility of an early release of the British suspects. She said they had been expecting progress during President George Bush's state visit but after the Istanbul bombing of the British embassy the political atmosphere seemed to change.Reuse content