Britons arrested abroad 'failed by Foreign Office'

The highest number of arrests took place in Spain, the most popular holiday and migration destination
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The Independent Online

Almost 6,000 British tourists and expats received consular help after being arrested overseas last year.

The number of Britons arrested overseas fell by more than 10 per cent between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2011, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said in its British Behaviour Abroad report. However, lawyers last night warned that the Government is failing dozens of detained Britons who have been stuck in inhumane prison systems awaiting trial for months or even years.

More than 200 Britons who were unable to get access to a lawyer or were detained without charge sought legal assistance from an international NGO which helps people caught up in unjust or corrupt criminal justice systems.

Fair Trials International (FTI) said that the FCO should do more to ensure Britons arrested abroad have access to lawyers and interpreters in order to help them to understand their rights and prepare a defence.

The highest number of arrests took place in Spain, the most popular holiday and migration destination for Britons. But proportionately, people were most likely to be arrested in Thailand, followed by the United States.

Jago Russell, chief executive of FTI, said: "Behind the FCO statistics there are shocking individual stories of torture and mistreatment by foreign police, arbitrary detention, grossly unfair trials and families torn apart." He added: "We are delighted that the UK Government is warning Britons of the consequences of criminal behaviour abroad, but for those who are arrested consular assistance is a vital public service."

A spokeswoman for the FCO said: "We take any complaints about the fairness of judicial proceedings seriously. However in the first instance, we would expect those concerns to be taken forward by the lawyers involved. If those concerns were not able to be addressed through the court process we could then consider what action might be appropriate."

Case study: Jailed in Peru

After his travelling companion was caught smuggling drugs, Alan Rae, 40, from Oxfordshire, was wrongly convicted of drug trafficking in Peru in April 2009 . He returned home at the end of July after more than two years in prison after his conviction was quashed, thanks in part to assistance from Fair Trials International. But he is still angry at the lack of consular support.

"We saw someone from the consulate after four days, and then not again till we were moved to the prison, 12 days after our arrest," he said, adding that he was not offered an interpreter. "The prison was awful: there were 100 people sleeping in the corridor every night. It was dirty, prisoners carried knives and there were riots. We got consular visits only every three months; other nationalities like the Germans and Spanish were visited every month.

"My brother contacted Fair Trials International who helped me get an interpreter and a lawyer; the consulate did nothing for me. If it hadn't been for Fair Trials International and my family, I would never have got home."