Former sect members fight on

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The Independent Online
Two former members of a religious sect accused of conspiracy to murder in the United States are to launch a last-ditch legal challenge against their extradition later this week. The High Court yesterday rejected an appeal to review the Government's decision to hand them to the American courts to stand trial.

Sally Croft, 44, an accountant, and Susan Hagan, 47, an aromatherapist, former followers of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, were refused permission to seek a judicial review of the Home Secretary's decision last month to extradite them. Mr Justice Morison rejected their lawyer's request that they be allowed to seek court orders blocking their removal until after a debate in the House of Lords, where a cross-party group of peers has expressed strong reservations about the case.

But the women, who left the sect in 1985, plan to appeal to the divisional court, where three judges will decide whether they have a case to argue before a full hearing. The solicitor acting for the women, Andrew McCooey, acknowledged that the next hearing, ordered urgently by Mr Justice Morison, may be the last chance in their three- and-a-half-year legal fight. 'We are at the end of the rope,' he said.

Mrs Hagan, of Bedmond, Hertfordshire, and Ms Croft, of Totnes, Devon, are accused of plotting to kill an Oregon state attorney, Charles Turner, in 1985 when they were members of the Bhagwan's sect. The attorney was not harmed but the women, who deny the allegations, say they face 'trial by media' and could receive 20-year prison sentences.