Minister demands access to Britons held in Cuban jail

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The Independent US

The Government was refused access last night to a group of six Britons, believed to be private detectives, detained in Cuba for more than two weeks after authorities became suspicious about their activities.

The Government was refused access last night to a group of six Britons, believed to be private detectives, detained in Cuba for more than two weeks after authorities became suspicious about their activities.

Bernard Garside, the British consul in Havana, met officials on the island late yesterday to request an explanation as to why the group had been held for 16 days without access to diplomatic aid. He had hoped to see the five men and one woman but was refused. Cuban officials said access might be granted in the next two days.

British authorities have been pressing unsuccessfully for more than 10 days for access to the group, one of whom was named by officials as Jonathan Fawcett. The Foreign Office said Cuban officials told Mr Garside they were investigating the group's activities which appeared to be related to a private investigation.

The growing diplomatic dispute has threatened to sour already tenuous relations between the two countries.Peter Hain, the Foreign Office minister, will today summon Cuba's envoy in Britain to a meeting.

Mr Hain said: "It is unacceptable that six British nationals are being held in Cuba without explanation and without access. Our chargé d'affaires is demanding that we be given immediate access.

"Their relatives have a right to know what's happening to them; they themselves have the right to know why they are being held, and the British Government has a right to offer them consular access."

British officials were first notified on 9 October that the group had been detained, but written confirmation was not received until 13 October. Last night the Foreign Office said Cuba was breaching its obligations regardless of the activities of the group. "We would expect British nationals to be charged or released," said a spokesman.

Britain has maintained a policy of constructive engagement with Cuba recently, promoting cordial relations while continuing to air concern over the country's record on human rights.

This was reflected in meetings between the Foreign Office minister Baroness Scotland of Asthal and the Cuban Foreign Minister in September and the signing of a prison transfer agreement, which led to the release of Rachel McGee and Michelle Malcolm, two 24-year-olds serving 15-year sentences for drug trafficking, as a goodwill gesture by Cuba.

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