Missionary free after year's hard labour

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The Independent Online

A Christian missionary has been freed from a Gambian jail after enduring a year of hard labour for sedition, the Foreign Office (FO) said today.

Fiona Fulton, 47, is understood to have been deported on Tuesday night, arriving at Gatwick Airport in London today.

But her husband, David, 61 - serving three years' imprisonment on an additional charge of forgery - is still completing his sentence, the FO confirmed.

An FO spokeswoman said today: "We can confirm that Mrs Fulton has been released from detention. Consular staff have been providing assistance to her.

The FO said it would not confirm if she was back in the UK, adding that she had no wish for publicity and was "sorting herself out".

However, Mrs Fulton's brother, Stuart McMinn, told the Daily Telegraph he had enjoyed a short conversation with her during her flight home.

Mr McMinn, 42, from Torquay, Devon, told the paper: "She sounded reasonably chirpy and very grateful for what everyone had done.

"It's good news but it would have been better if it had been both of them. She is trying to get her thoughts together and needs some peace to collect herself."

The couple were jailed in December last year for allegedly sending a letter to individuals and groups criticising the West African state's government.

In a statement at the time, Mr Fulton, originally of Troon, Ayrshire, apologised to the Gambian public and the country's president.

Gambia is a former British colony ruled by the same regime since President Yayha Jammeh seized power in a 1994 coup.

Its people are given limited scope for free speech.

The couple were reportedly advised to admit the sedition charges in an attempt to win a less stringent punishment. The tactic arguably failed when the hard labour sentence was handed out.

Mrs Fulton is expected to return to the West Country to be reunited with her children and grandchildren.

Mrs Fulton's father, Peter McMinn, 81, from Teignmouth, said relatives had been praying hard for her release.

The pair pleaded guilty last December in a Gambian court and were sentenced and also fined £6,250 each.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said at the time: "We are seeking clarity as to what hard labour means in this context. It is a decision for the Fultons with their legal representative as to whether they appeal this judgment or not.

"Mr and Mrs Fulton have not raised any concerns over their welfare with us. Consular staff in the Gambia will continue to visit Mr and Mrs Fulton whilst they are being detained.

"If Mr or Mrs Fulton raise concerns over their treatment, we can take these up with the relevant authorities."

Mr Fulton, a former British Army major originally from Troon, Scotland, and Mrs Fulton, originally from Torquay, Devon, were arrested on November 29 2008.

The pair were held separately following their arrests and were not granted bail.

Mr Fulton was detained at high-security Mile Two prison outside the capital Banjul.

It is described as a "tough" former colonial jail built during the days of the British Empire.

Mrs Fulton was held with their two-year-old adopted daughter Elizabeth at a police station in the capital.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office said consular staff in Gambia has checked the welfare of the Fultons' daughter.

It is understood that Elizabeth was returned to Britain to be cared for by a family friend soon after the case began.