British woman freed after Thai king's pardon

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The Independent Online

Convicted heroin smuggler Sandra Gregory was today greeted by her father carrying flowers and a bottle of champagne as she arrived at a train station near her family home.

Convicted heroin smuggler Sandra Gregory was today greeted by her father carrying flowers and a bottle of champagne as she arrived at a train station near her family home.

The former English teacher, enjoying her first hours of freedom after being released from prison following a royal pardon by the King of Thailand, gave father Stan an emotional embrace on the platform at Aberdeen station.

Yesterday, to the sound of her fellow inmates singing "For She's a Jolly Good Fellow", she walked free from a Kent prison after she received a pardon from the King of Thailand.

Gregory, 35, who was found in possession of heroin at Bangkok airport in 1993, had served seven years of her original 25-year sentence.

In tears, she embraced her waiting mother, Doreen, and said her release had come as a great surprise. "It is absolutely marvellous. I only found out yesterday when my mother told me. I was not expecting it at all and am humbled by it."

Looking healthy, in a red jacket and blue jeans, Gregory said her future career options would be defined by her jail record.

"I have been smiling for 24 hours but it's hard to make plans. There are things I would like to do but my choices are limited. I cannot travel abroad and going for a job now will be a problem," she said.

"I cannot go back to teaching because I have a criminal record. I would like to do something with drug rehabilitation, there is a big demand for it. Most girls in prison have a drug problem."

Gregory, originally from Sowerby Bridge in Yorkshire, was arrested while trying to board a flight from Bangkok to Tokyo, carrying 89g of heroin.

Ill with dengue fever, she claimed to have committed the crime to raise money to fly home for treatment. She said she carried the drugs for her travelling companion, Robert Lock, who denied any knowledge of the plot and was later acquitted. In 1998, he was convicted of possessing heroin in his home city of Cambridge.

Yesterday, Gregory made no attempt to absolve herself. "I was guilty of breaking the law in Thailand and I take full responsibility for what I have done. I still think Thailand is a marvellous country," she said.

Gregory served the early part of her sentence, later reduced to 22 years, in Lard Yao women's prison, nicknamed the Bangkok Hilton. She was repatriated in 1997 and placed in Durham high-security prison before being moved to Cookham Wood in Kent.

Her mother and father, Stan, had campaigned against the severity of the sentence, pointing out that a similar offender in Britain would serve no more than four years. Gregory was serving the third longest sentence for a woman in a British jail. Only Rosemary West and Myra Hindley had longer prison terms.

Gregory's supporters had contrasted her treatment with that of other jailed British drugs offenders, such as Patricia Cahill and Karyn Smith, and convicted killers Lucille McLauchlan and Deborah Parry, all released early after help from ministers.

In December, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office told the Gregorys that the case lacked the "compassionate grounds" to justify government intervention. Yesterday, an official was sent to the prison with a message for Gregory from the Foreign Office minister Baroness Scotland. "Good luck, congratulations and all the best for the future," it said.