They flew there in chains. Yesterday, the handcuffs came off

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The Independent Online

There were no cuffs or shackles and the colour-coded jumpsuits the British detainees had worn for the past 36 months were replaced with civilian clothing. The welcoming committee consisted, however, of uniformed Metropolitan Police officers and Anti-terrorist Branch detectives rather than liveried stewards.

There were no cuffs or shackles and the colour-coded jumpsuits the British detainees had worn for the past 36 months were replaced with civilian clothing. The welcoming committee consisted, however, of uniformed Metropolitan Police officers and Anti-terrorist Branch detectives rather than liveried stewards.

But compared to the 22-hour flights that took them to Guantanamo Bay up to three years ago, when they were chained to a cargo plane floor while wearing blacked-out goggles and rubber gloves, the journey home yesterday for the four Britons freed from Camp Delta at least allowed basic dignity.

As a Royal Air Force cargo plane prepared to return to Britain from Cuba shortly before 11am GMT yesterday, the men were shown to seats that Scotland Yard, apparently fearful of being accused of cosseting the prisoners, insisted offered only a "basic level of comfort". Beneath this statement lay a chain of concern stretching from Guantanamo back to Whitehall that the detainees - for so long an advert for the degrading side of America's "war on terror" - be seen to be treated with an austere humanity.

The RAF C-17 Globemaster, which touched down in west London just after 5pm yesterday, had a medical team to tend to the four Britons if they fell ill. It is understood that handcuffs used to restrain the men when they were handed over by the US military authorities were removed by the British officers. The men were offered halal food and allowed to pray. Two independent observers, one from the Muslim community, accompanied them on the journey.

A Yard spokesman said: "Advice has been taken about the necessary arrangements to ensure that the religious and cultural needs of the men." To underline the point, two video cameras recorded the entire seven-hour flight.

Among the images they captured would have been a senior police officer arresting all four men on suspicion of being involved in the commission or preparation of a terrorist attack. Those words were spoken as the plane came to a rest on the asphalt at RAF Northolt.

A police van then reversed into the rear hatch of the C-17. The detainees boarded and were driven in a convoy to Paddington Green.

The careful choreography, apparently as much about fulfilling the assurances to Washington that the men would pose no security risk to the US as observing procedure, continued there. The men were examined by a police doctor before being allowed to make a phone call and speak, for the first time, to their British lawyers.

Scotland Yard last night outlined one other small but crucial concession to differentiate London from Guantanamo. A spokesman said: "Due to the unique circumstances of this case, each man will be allowed a visit by a family member."