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Life for pregnant Briton found guilty of drug smuggling in Laos

20-year-old may return home to serve sentence after diplomatic agreement

A pregnant British woman held in Laos for almost a year has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being found guilty of drug smuggling.

Samantha Orobator, 20, from south London, had faced the death penalty but was spared execution because she fell pregnant while in prison. Her mother has claimed that she deliberately became pregnant to save her own life.

A British embassy spokesman said yesterday's verdict was handed down after three hours at a one-day hearing in the capital, Vientiane.

Under a recent agreement between Britain and Laos, Orobator could be extradited to serve the remainder of her sentence in Britain.

Orobator arrived in court wearing a blue prison outfit and smiled at reporters. She was escorted by female prison guards but was not in handcuffs or ankle chains. Her mother also attended the trial and looked distressed leaving court afterwards but Orobator appeared calm.

Police said she had been carrying 1.5lb (680 grams) of heroin in 68 capsules when she was arrested at Wattay airport in Vientiane on her way to Australia in August last year.

The British legal charity Reprieve, which has helped to raise the profile of her case, said the drugs were found in her luggage.

Daniel Painter, from the British embassy in Thailand, attended the trial. When asked if he felt that Orobator had received a fair hearing, he said: "We don't comment or interfere in the judicial proceedings of other countries. If Samantha has concerns about fair trial issues then we can take those up with the Laos government."

Orobator has 21 days to appeal against her sentence. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said British officials would soon make contact with her to discuss her next move. "We will be discussing with Samantha if she wants to apply for a transfer. There is a prisoner transfer agreement; it will be up to her," the spokesman said.

Reprieve has raised concerns about allowing her to fly after she enters her third trimester of pregnancy on 6 June. Orobator was arrested 10 months ago, but her case did not draw international attention until news of her pregnancy became public at the start of May, amid concerns that she could be executed by firing squad if found guilty.

The Lao government later confirmed that under the country's criminal law, a pregnant woman could not receive the death penalty. Judicial officials delayed her scheduled trial date in May because of questions about how she became pregnant.

According to officials in Laos, Orobator initially told authorities she was pregnant by her boyfriend in England, but tests after she was arrested showed no signs of pregnancy.

It was not until 2 March that a hospital test proved that she was pregnant. Police said this meant she must have become pregnant while in prison. Orobator's mother recently said her daughter had not been raped by prison officials or fellow prisoners.

Yesterday, a local newspaper quoted police as saying that Orobator had admitted secretly obtaining sperm from a fellow prisoner to impregnate herself so that she would escape the death penalty.