The Government asked Jordan to pardon the terror suspect Abu Qatada in an attempt to smooth the process of deporting him, a tribunal was told.
James Brokenshire, the Minister for Security at the Home Office, asked his Jordanian counterparts in February if the radical cleric, once described by a judge as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, could be pardoned if he was returned. Even when Mr Brokenshire was told this was not possible, ministers had a "plan B" – to find out when King Abdullah II of Jordan could issue such a pardon, an immigration appeals tribunal heard.
Anthony Layden, the former British ambassador to Libya, who specialises in negotiating diplomatic assurances, revealed details of the talks which took place in Jordan on 14 February.
Under cross-examination by Edward Fitzgerald, QC, for Qatada, Mr Layden agreed that the possibility of a pardon for the cleric was explored. "I think the question of a pardon had been asked earlier and Mr Brokenshire was asking for an answer," he said. The pardon was being sought because the evidence against Qatada was "granted by torture", Mr Layden agreed.
He was giving evidence at a hearing to determine whether or not Qatada can be deported to Jordan, where hefaces a retrial after being convicted of terror offences in absentia. The Special Immigration Appeals Commission must decide whether or not he can receive a fair trial amid claims that evidence likely to be used against him was obtained by torture. European human rights judges have previously ruled that Qatada, 51, cannot be deported while there is a "real risk" that this would happen.
Lawyers for the Government are expected to argue that they are satisfied no evidence obtained under torture will be used. The hearing was told that the Home Office asked Jordanian prosecutors to give "an undertaking in advance that they would not rely on [such] statements" – but they refused. Mr Layden dismissed suggestions that the Home Office had set a "minimum requirement" to deport the cleric – that the risk that the statements allegedly gained by torture would be used in a retrial should be removed entirely.
"I never accepted that it would ever be a minimum requirement," he said. "This was never any kind of considered Government policy or considered political or legal representation."
The phrase "minimum requirement" came from the Home Secretary advisers at a meeting about the Qatada case, he said. The hearing continues.