Greece frees driver on bail for appeal

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The Independent Online

A lorry driver jailed for 11 years in Greece after being found with 19 illegal immigrants in his vehicle was freed to return to England on bail pending an appeal yesterday.

David Wilson, 44, from Bradford, West Yorkshire, and his family and friends have been battling to have his conviction overturned. Mr Wilson was also fined £47,000 by a Greek court after being caught with Iraqi Kurds in the back of his lorry in March.

His family said yesterday Mr Wilson was delighted at the decision to release him until his appeal in November, made at a bail hearing in the port town of Patras. Mr Wilson was returning to Britain on 18 March when he was stopped by Greek customs officials in Patras. He was arrested and the 19 Iraqi Kurds detained.

Under Greek law, anyone "caught in the act" is fast-tracked through the legal system and tried in court within a few days. The lorry driver was given a local lawyer and made to appear in court for his trial the next day.

Stephen Jakobi, the director of Fair Trials Abroad, said that truckers travelling abroad, who have to take rest breaks by law, are often targeted by people smuggling illegal immigrants. He also criticised the Greek fast-track court system, saying it was "against international law". After the bail decision, Mr Jakobi said: "We've got to remember this is only the first stage. In a few months, David will have to go back to face an 'Appeal By Way of Rehearing'. Because he cannot produce the immigrants, he will have to rely on expert evidence in that appeal."

Mr Wilson's wife, Tracey, has campaigned for her husband's release and collected £22,000 bail money from donations around the world. The hearing set Mr Wilson's bail at €2,000 euros (nearly £1,500), substantially less than the family had expected.

Mrs Wilson said that she had spoken to her husband and said he "was relieved and delighted". She added: "I have just got one thought in my mind and it's David. I've just spoken to him. He is back in prison. He is just relieved, relieved and delighted."

¿ The trial of eight Chinese people accused of organising a smuggling operation in which 58 Chinese immigrants died in the back of a lorry being brought into Britain began yesterday. The driver of the truck, Perry Wacker, has already been sentenced to 14 years, and a Chinese interpreter received six years.