British teacher flies home after receiving pardon

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The Independent Online

The British teacher jailed in Sudan for allowing her pupils to name a teddy bear Mohamed was due back in Britain this morning after a diplomatic offensive by two Muslim peers led to her being pardoned.

Gillian Gibbons, 54, was released yesterday after eight days of detention in a "prison" that turned out to be a Sudanese government office compound. She was said to be in a buoyant mood and cracking jokes with the peers, Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi. They held two days of talks with officials in the capital, Khartoum, before a carefully choreographed meeting with President Omar al-Bashir led to the termination of the 15-day jail term imposed on Mrs Gibbons for insulting Islam.

Her release was greeted with relief by her family and praise for the efforts of the peers and British diplomats to resolve a crisis that had threatened to inflame Sudan's relations with the West. Speaking at her home in Liverpool, Mrs Gibbons' son, John, 25, said: "It has been a strange old week, very stressful and particularly bad for the family, but now she is coming home. If this week has taught me anything, it is that anything can happen."

Gordon Brown applauded the diplomatic success and said "common sense has prevailed" but insisted that the detention of the British teacher was "completely wrong". The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, praised Mrs Gibbons for her "remarkable steadfastness and good cheer" during her ordeal. Mrs Gibbons, who flew out of Khartoum last night with Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi on a flight bound for Heathrow, said she was sorry for any offence she had caused.

She added: "I have great respect for the Islamic religion and would not knowingly offend anyone. I am sorry if I caused any distress. I am looking forward to seeing my family and friends but I am very sorry that I will be unable to return to Sudan and work in Unity High School as the teacher of [class] 2X."

Rather than being held in the overcrowded Omdurman women's prison near Khartoum, Mrs Gibbons had spent the five days since her conviction under guard in an ad hoc detention unit in a government building. Its location was kept secret after protests on Friday by large crowds who waved swords and sticks and called for the Briton to be executed.

About 40 demonstrators gathered briefly outside the British embassy in the capital yesterday after the announcement of Mrs Gibbons' release. Mr Miliband added: "I did say to her it must have been very tough over the last week and she did say, 'Well, it was prison but it wasn't too bad a prison'. She has shown very good British grit in very difficult circumstances."

The disintegration of Mrs Gibbons' long-held dream of teaching abroad began in September when she asked her seven-year-old pupils to vote on a name for a teddy bear. The toy was called Mohamed after one of the most popular boys in the class, but a school secretary complained to education officials that it offended her religious beliefs.

Lord Ahmed said: "As British Muslim parliamentarians, we feel proud that we have been able to secure Gillian Gibbons' release."

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