Move to extradite women attacked by peers

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The Independent Online
THE HOME Secretary was accused by a Tory peer of showing 'cavalier contempt' for Lord Wakeham, the Leader of the House of Lords, last night, for attempting to extradite two British women accused of a murder plot in the United States.

At the end of a day of high drama at the High Court in London, Lord Morris, a Conservative backbencher, revealed that Michael Howard had ignored efforts by Lord Wakeham to allow the House of Lords to debate the women's case before they were sent to face a possible 20-year jail sentence.

The women, Sally Croft, 44, and Susan Hagan, 47, former members of the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh sect in Oregon, are accused of conspiring to murder Charles Turner, a US attorney, in 1985. The women deny involvement and Mr Turner was never harmed.

Their lives were turned upside down yesterday after they failed to get the High Court to overrule a decision by Mr Howard that they should be extradited. As Mr Justice Alliott declared they had been unsuccessful, Clare Montgomery, counsel for the Home Secretary, drew gasps when she disclosed that the women would be put on a plane bound for the US at 6pm.

After a series of frantic applications, Mr Howard withdrew the extradition order pending a fresh application for a judicial review and the women were granted bail on a pounds 10,000 surety.

But his actions had already drawn criticism from Labour and Conservative peers. Lord Morris threatened to resign the Tory whip if the extraditions went ahead and Lord Longford and Lord Richard, Leader of the Opposition in the Lords, both objected.

In a letter to Lords Longford and Richard, dated 27 April, Lord Wakeham says he cannot bind the Home Secretary to a decision allowing a debate on the women's plight, but he adds: '. . . I will take all such steps as I can, including helping rearrange the business (of the House) in order to enable the House to have the chance to debate this issue before any decision to extradite the two women in question has been carried out.'

Lord Morris said: 'I know from Mr Howard's office that he saw a copy of this letter. In ignoring the spirit of it, he has displayed the most cavalier contempt for a distinguished Cabinet colleague in Lord Wakeham.

'He has simply held up two fingers to the House of Lords. We are genuinely concerned about the quality of evidence against these women and their unrealistic chances of a fair trial in Oregon, but the Home Secretary has taken no account of those concerns.'

Ms Croft, an accountant, and Ms Hagan, an aromatherapist, were left distraught. Ms Hagan said: 'It came like a bolt out of the blue. I feel we are being stitched up by the British and American governments despite the fact that there is now cross-party support for us in the Lords.'