Carry on Qatada: Home Office fails to deport radical preacher

Farcical blunder allows terror cleric to stay in UK

The decade-long legal battle over Abu Qatada's fate turned to farce last night as Theresa May, the Home Secretary, was accused of a basic blunder in moves to deport the radical preacher to Jordan to face terror charges.

As the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) halted the latest moves to remove him from Britain, the Home Office clashed with the Strasbourg-based court over when a deadline ran out for the cleric to appeal against his deportation. The bizarre wrangling will prompt a further delay to the saga. It forced Ms May to tour television studios insisting that her interpretation of the ECHR's legal fine print was correct and to deny she had broken the law by ordering Abu Qatada's arrest.

The result of the appeal is that his deportation will be delayed for several months until the ECHR's judges decide whether the case should be referred back to the court's Grand Chamber.

Lawyers for Abu Qatada, who is back behind bars, could also argue that he should be released again on bail while he waits for his appeal to be heard. After a month of torrid headlines for the Coalition, Labour claimed the episode was fresh evidence of "shambles and confusion" at the heart of government.

Following an ECHR judgment on 17 January, Abu Qatada's legal team was given a three-month deadline to challenge the court's ruling that he would not be at risk of torture if he returned to Jordan. Over that period, Ms May obtained new assurances from the Jordanian government that he would not face trial on evidence obtained through torture – the grounds on which the ECHR blocked a previous attempt at deportation.

Ms May ordered the arrest of Abu Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, early on Tuesday and started a fresh attempt to remove him. But his lawyers launched an appeal late on Tuesday – and the ECHR intervened again to halt his removal.

The confusion arose over whether the deadline ran out at the beginning or end of 17 April and the ECHR's own guidelines are not explicit on the point. They say: "It is to be noted that the period of three months within which referral may be requested starts to run on the date of the delivery of the judgment."

The deadline was not affected by the fact that 2012 is a leap year.

The Home Office said its lawyers had been advised by the ECHR that the deadline ran out at midnight on 16 April. Sources in the court said it expired at midnight on 17 April.

The appeal relates to whether Abu Qatada himself could be tortured in Jordan – and not the separate issue of his facing trial using evidence acquired through torture.

Ms May said last night: "There is no question that we have broken the law in arresting Abu Qatada. I am absolutely sure we got the deadline date correct."

She accused his legal team of delaying tactics and added: "We have been in touch with the European court over the last three months to check our understanding. They were absolutely clear that we were operating on the basis that it was midnight on April 16."

But Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "The Home Secretary needs to urgently come back to Parliament to tell the public what on earth has happened here.

"The Home Office are saying one thing, the European Court another. Why didn't they just agree the deadline in advance so there could be no opportunity for Abu Qatada or his lawyers to exploit?"

The Labour MP Keith Vaz, the chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said the deportation was becoming "chaotic and almost farcical".

Mr Vaz said: "It's very important [Ms May] should clarify this as soon as possible by making a statement to the House after she knows what the facts are."

The latest twist will enrage Conservative MPs who have been pressing for the Government to ignore the ECHR and press ahead with the deportation.

The dispute broke out as the 47 members of the Council of Europe meet in Brighton today to discuss reforms to the ECHR championed by Britain. They are designed to ensure it intervenes less in decisions that can be settled by domestic courts.

Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
people''Women's rights is too often synonymous with man-hating'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Infrastructure Analyst

£45000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Infrastructure Ana...

Teacher of Learners with Special Needs - Nottingham

£130 - £161 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: Teacher required to work w...

Science Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: Science Teachers needed for s...

Maths Teacher

£110 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Reading: QTS Maths Teachers needed for...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments