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Conviction quashed for death sentence Briton

A former British soldier facing execution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has had his conviction quashed with a retrial ordered, his legal team said today.

Joshua French, 28, who has dual British and Norwegian nationality, and his friend, Tjostolv Moland, were sentenced to death by firing squad last year after being found guilty of espionage and murder.

Campaigners have described the trial and subsequent appeal as a "mockery of justice".

At the the High Court in Kinshasa today, the conviction was overturned for technical reasons, citing the change of judges mid-trial.

But, in a disappointment for his supporters, the case was referred back to the same military court under which the men were initially tried, legal charity Reprieve said.

French and Moland are blamed by authorities for the death of Abedi Kasongo, who had been hired to drive the two former soldiers after their motorbike broke down in April last year.

The 47-year-old driver was shot in the head 70 miles east of Kisangani.

French and Moland have denied they were responsible. They claim that unknown gunmen ambushed them in the middle of a dense rainforest.

Reprieve claims that, since being arrested, both men have suffered a series of miscarriages of justice.

It is claimed that French was beaten and subjected to a mock execution before being forced to sign a confession.

The prosecution claim that Moland wrote a letter confessing he was a spy and was responsible for killing Kasongo.

But the letter has never been given to his defence team.

Moreover, they point out that the former Norwegian soldier suffers from cerebral malaria, has hallucinations and believes he is in spiritual contact with a pygmy.

French, who spent his childhood in Margate, Kent, trained as a British paratrooper before serving in the Norwegian Army, where he met Moland.

Both men left the forces in 2007 and worked as security guards in a number of locations.

French was not allowed to attend today's High Court session and his lawyers were prevented from representing him, Reprieve said.

The charity also condemned the decision to send the case back to the "unfair" military court in Kisangani, a remote part of DR Congo.

Reprieve's director, Clive Stafford Smith, said: "While the temporary reversal of the death sentence is welcome, this remains a farcical legal process.

"The DRC authorities should consider allowing Joshua a fair trial in a court with jurisdiction, and let his lawyer show up to the relevant proceedings."