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May did get Qatada date wrong (but she'll deport him anyway)

Radical cleric was within his rights to appeal to European court – but judges reject his case
  • @NigelpMorris

Theresa May will make a fresh effort to remove Abu Qatada from Britain after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his attempt to appeal against deportation to Jordan to face terror charges.

But the Home Secretary also faced embarrassment as the panel of judges in Strasbourg ruled that the radical Muslim cleric's appeal had arrived in time. However, it considered that the request should be refused.

Abu Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, will now take his 11-year fight against deportation back to the British courts. But the ECHR panel's decision not to allow Abu Qatada, who is being held at Belmarsh prison in south-east London, to appeal to its Grand Chamber narrows his legal options. The Home Office is examining ways of accelerating the case through the courts in the hope he can be deported within months rather than years.

Ms May said: "It has always been the Government's intention that the Qatada case should be heard in the British courts, so I am pleased by the European Court's decision today.

"I remain confident that the assurances I have secured from the Jordanian government mean we will be able to put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain for good. His case will now go through the British courts."

To her discomfort, the ECHR ruled that Abu Qatada's appeal on the night of 17 April was within the court's deadline. The decision means she was wrong when she claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the court's original decision on 17 January expired on the night of 16 April.

No reasons were given for the panel's decision to reject his request for an appeal, which centred on Abu Qatada's claims that he could be tortured if he was sent to Jordan. The ruling was separate from the ECHR's initial bar on deportation, which required the Government to first obtain an assurance from Jordan that evidence gained through torture would not be used against the cleric. Ms May travelled to Jordan earlier this year in an attempt to obtain such a promise.

Abu Qatada's lawyers applied to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for a fresh bail hearing but no date has yet been set. Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We are all very lucky that the Home Secretary's major mistake has not led to Abu Qatada's application for appeal being granted.

"Now is the time for Theresa May to apologise for such a potentially catastrophic error of judgement and answer questions as to what led her to make this mistake and why she was adamant she was right."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are obviously very pleased with the decision. It means that the case will now be heard in a British court and it is clearly our intention still to deport this man. We believe the assurances we have from the Jordanian government are sufficient."