Lorry drivers hit out at 'stinking' Turkish prison: Britons reunited with families after spending Christmas huddled together in cell

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The Independent Online
THREE British lorry drivers suspected of involvement in a Turkish export fraud yesterday described how they spent Christmas day in a filthy, unheated prison cell.

The men arrived back in Britain after the Turkish authorities released them because of insufficient evidence to link them with a racket thought to be worth millions of pounds a year.

Peter Thomas, 46, from Bristol, Tony Quinn, 44, and Graham Quinn, 43, both from Bradford (but not related), yesterday criticised their treatment by the Turkish authorities and the conditions in which they were held.

They were detained on the border for a week after their arrest and spent another four weeks in Turkish prisons. When transferred between jails and to court they were chained up.

Graham Quinn said, 'Some people here think British prisons are rough - they are like Butlin's compared to the conditions we were in.'

The three men were held on the Turkish-Greek border in November as they were driving back to Britain with lorry loads of T- shirts. They spent a week in Ipsala sleeping in their cabs and in a boilerhouse.

Turkish customs officers discovered that although the lorries contained the number of boxes stated on their export documents many of these were not full. Mr Thomas's lorry was 8 1/2 tons short of its declared weight.

The larger cargoes would have qualified the exporters for extra incentive payments from the Turkish government. Such frauds are thought to have been widespread for the past four years.

The drivers yesterday denied any involvement and said they did not load the lorries or touch the goods, which were in sealed boxes. The export documents were entirely in Turkish.

However, they were jailed first in Ipsala and then in Edirne while the investigation continued. They were not told why they were being held and only found out after several weeks from Turkish fellow prisoners also accused of involvement.

Mr Thomas said: 'The conditions in the prison were very bad. The bedclothes stank, they were never washed.'

On Christmas Day the men ate cheese, bread, onions and jam and were without light or heating for four hours because of a power failure. They had to huddle inside their dirty blankets to keep warm.

Graham Quinn said: 'We spent Christmas drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and longing for our families.'

Yesterday, the mens' wives and a coach-load of 11 of Mr Thomas's relatives were at Gatwick airport for an emotional reunion. Some of the families had already visited the men in prison.

The drivers were released by the Turkish judge on condition that they return for another court hearing on 25 January. However, all three made it clear yesterday that they had no intention of going back.

In the meantime, the lorries, worth about pounds 250,000 and owned by their employer, Ralph Davies Haulage of Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, are stranded in Turkey along with the drivers' personal belongings.

Mr Thomas said: 'It will take

a long time to forget it. I don't think I'll be going back there for a holiday.'

(Photograph omitted)