Charity takes swipe at Foreign Office

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The Foreign Office has been accused of sabotaging the work of one of Britain's leading human rights charities.

Fair Trials Abroad, which has helped to secure the release of dozens of Britons jailed overseas, claims Foreign Office staff have undermined the charity's legal representation by contacting the families of prisoners and offering them government-approved lawyers without consulting the charity.

Stephen Jakobi, director of Fair Trials Abroad, wrote to James Watt, head of the consular division at the Foreign Office, complaining about what he saw as interference over the case of Ian Stillman, a disabled British charity worker serving 10 years for smuggling cannabis, an offence he denies. Mr Jakobi said: "The policy you adopted is surely with the aim of substituting a more government-friendly lawyer in our place. I can't see any other point to it." Mr Watt replied: "You chided me for appearing to suggest ... that the advice from the panel might be an alternative to the advice you were giving. I consider myself bound to make them aware of the panel's existence ... To have done nothing would have been wrong."

It is not the first spat between the two. In 1996, Fair Trials accused the Foreign Office of making false allegations that delayed the granting of its charity status.