A pregnant woman sentenced to life imprisonment in Laos for trafficking heroin arrived back in the UK today while the British man believed to be the father of her unborn child remains in custody in the South-east Asian state.
Samantha Orobator, 20, was handed over to Ministry of Justice officials yesterday, shortly before her return to the UK, where she will give birth and serve out her sentence.
She arrived back at Heathrow Airport this morning, where she was met by a waiting prison van taking her to Holloway prison. A spokesman for the charity Reprieve said Orobator, who travelled with a midwife and representatives from the Ministry of Justice, would be undergoing health checks when she arrived at Holloway.
Orobator, from Peckham, south London, was caught with 680g of heroin in August last year. She avoided Laos's mandatory death penalty because of her pregnancy.
But yesterday it emerged that the prospects for the repatriation of fellow British prisoner John Watson, 47, also serving a life sentence for drug smuggling, look more bleak. During Orobator's trial, prosecutors read out a statement from the British woman in which she claimed to have artificially inseminated herself with semen from Watson.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office confirmed that the Government was continuing to press for the early transfer of Watson. The Foreign Office minister, Chris Bryant, said: "I remain extremely concerned for the health of John Watson, the other British prisoner held in a Laos jail. When I spoke to [Laotian] Deputy Foreign Minister [Phongsavath] Boupha earlier this week, I was assured that John will also be transferred, in his words, 'in the very near future'. I look to the Laos authorities to ensure that this happens."
Orobator's case drew widespread attention in Britain over fears that she could be executed by a firing squad and reports – later discounted by her mother – that she was raped in prison. Her mother, Jane, said: "I just want her to come back to the UK, that is my first desire. One step at a time, I just want her to have her baby here."
Mr Bryant added that he was "deeply grateful" to the Laotian authorities and thanked the team in the British embassy in neighbouring Thailand, "who worked tirelessly to secure this result".
Under a pact signed in May by Laos and Britain, Orobator can be extradited to Britain, though it is unlikely she will serve a full life sentence. The two countries signed an agreement paving the way for her transfer, and she was handed over to British authorities. "Samantha's transfer would ensure that she will give birth in the UK," Quinton Quayle, the British ambassador to Laos, said before the flight left. "We believe this is the best outcome for all concerned, in particular her unborn child."