Cult women 'face prejudice in US'

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TWO WOMEN fighting extradition to the United States on murder conspiracy charges will face 'substantial prejudice', according to evidence to be presented to two High Court judges today.

The evidence, a poll in Oregon, where the women were alleged to have plotted to kill a district attorney, shows that almost 43 per cent of people believe they are guilty.

Susan Hagan, 47, an aromatherapist, and Sally Croft, 44, an accountant, were members of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sect in Antelope, Oregon, in the mid-1980s when they were alleged to have conspired to kill Charles Turner. Mr Turner was not harmed and the alleged plot emerged only after four other former members agreed to plea-bargain deals. The women launched their latest appeals against extradition at the High Court yesterday, but their first challenge - that Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, was behaving unreasonably in not allowing the House of Lords to debate the case - was rejected by Lord Justice Steyn and Mr Justice Kay.

Instead, Alun Jones QC, counsel for the women, will continue an application for a writ of habeas corpus today on the grounds that Britain's Extradition Act can preclude a person's extradition to a country where they may face prejudice on grounds of religion.

He will submit the findings of a poll that studied public opinion on the Rajneeshees during the 1980s and again two weeks ago. Of 204 voters asked, 62.3 per cent said they had heard of the case against the women and 42.6 per cent said they were probably guilty.

The hearing continues.