Pardoned drugs pair fly home from prison: Women manhandled on to aircraft for journey from Bangkok

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THE THAI authorities last night bundled the pardoned British drug- traffickers Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith on to an aircraft home, where, after an 11-hour flight, drug squad detectives and Fleet Street cheque books were waiting to greet them.

Their families have prepared a reception committee for them in Birmingham, but the speed of their deportation meant that as the women left Bangkok, Miss Smith's parents were on board an aircraft to Thailand, and will not be among those welcoming them at Heathrow this morning.

Miss Cahill, 20, and Miss Smith, 22, were arrested in 1990 by the Thai authorities, who were determined to stamp hard on drug-trafficking.

Miss Smith, who had pleaded guilty to heroin smuggling, was sentenced to 25 years in jail. Miss Cahill, who had denied the same charges, was sentenced to 18 years.

Yesterday the treatment of the two women by guards and police indicated that, despite their release, the authorities intended to make it clear they were still considered criminals. The two women emerged from Klong Prem women's jail on the outskirts of Bangkok looking as much relieved as elated, and unsteady on their feet.

Miss Smith, wearing a long blue dress, and Miss Cahill, in blue jeans and a white blouse, with a large crucifix around her neck, told about 80 reporters waiting outside that they were overjoyed to be out of prison.

Miss Smith said: 'It's happened so fast I was shocked when I heard the news.' The two - jailed three years ago - refused to pose together for waiting photographers, but, in response to questions, Miss Smith said they had been treated 'wonderfully'.

Both women threw their arms around British Embassy officials before being bundled into a van by uniformed security guards and driven away, followed by a convoy of journalists.

Later, they were roughly manhandled through the airport and on to a British Airways flight due to land at Heathrow this morning. The women, who were arrested at the same airport in July 1990, were convicted of trying to smuggle 66lb of heroin out of the country. They were were granted a royal pardon this week by King Bhumibol Adulyadej on humanitarian grounds after intensive diplomatic activity.

Last February, John Major wrote a letter to the king on their behalf. Campaigners for the women, notably the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Rev Mark Santer, have claimed they had been framed, but the British and Thai governments have been anxious to emphasise that the two women are not innocent, but have been pardoned as an act of clemency, chiefly because of their youth.

Stephen Jakobi, a solicitor acting for the Smith family, said in London that Miss Smith's story would be on offer to the highest bidder. 'The family are pounds 30,000 out of pocket, and they have to recover the money somehow,' he said. There has also been talk of a feature film of their story.

West Midlands Police said they wanted to talk to the women about allegations they had made at their trial, that they were duped into drug- smuggling by a Birmingham man, whom they say had intended to accompany them, bought their aircraft tickets, then pulled out of the trip.

Police said they hope to glean information about West Midlands links to the international drugs trade. Detective Superintendent Mick Williams, head of the West Midlands Police drugs squad, said: 'We are obviously interested if the region is being used as a co-ordinating centre for the importation of drugs from Thailand or anywhere else.'

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