Father of Saudi car-bomb victim rejects suspects' TV confessions

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The Independent Online

The father of a Briton blown up by a car bomb in Saudi Arabia has rejected the television "confessions" of six suspects accused of planting the device.

Jerry Rodway, whose son, Christopher, died in a blast in Riyadh last November, called for the death penalty to be imposed on the six when they were paraded on Saudi television. But in an interview with The Independent yesterday, he said he now considered the confessions "a put-up job".

Alexander "Sandy" Mitchell, a Briton, William Sampson, a Canadian, and Raaf Schifter, a Belgian, were shown on television in February confessing to causing two explosions in Riyadh in November. Clearly reading from a script, they said they had been acting on "orders" from an unspecified source.

Last week, three more Britons – James Cottle, James Lee and Leslie Walker – appeared on television, again apparently being prompted, and confessed to three more bombings in Riyadh and Al Khobar between December and March in an attempt to convince the Saudi police that the first three detainees were innocent.

Mr Rodway's rejection of the confessions, and a separate assertion to The Independent by Jane Rodway, Christopher's widow, that he was not involved in a bootleg alcohol "turf war", as has been claimed, are likely to put pressure on the Saudis to produce real evidence or free the men. Mr Rodway, 70, feels the Foreign Office and Saudi authorities have not done enough to ensure a proper investigation. He says he now believes inquiries have become "farcical".

Mr Rodway said: "I have my doubts about the confessions because to me they look like a put up job. We are not stupid and if the Saudis think we are, they had better think again. You can see that the men are reading off an autocue or blackboard and have been told what to say.

"When the second group appeared on television, it was a carbon copy of the first group's performance. My question is: how long is this going to go on? How many more people are they going to put in front of a television camera and force to admit they killed my son?

"This is becoming a joke and we're fed up with it. If they're so certain these men did it, they should charge them. If not, they should apologise and let them go. All I want is justice for my son. In Saudi Arabia, the penalty for a crime like this is public beheading; I would go along with that for the correct perpetrator, but not if I couldn't be sure."

Inquiries by The Independent have disclosed that some of the accused were involved in selling alcohol, but not on a large scale. Until two years ago, Mr Mitchell, 44, a hospital technician, used to own a bar called the Celtic Corner, while another of the accused ran, but did not own, a second bar on the Al Fallah compound in Riyadh.

Mr Schifter, a paramedic, and Mr Cottle, a contractor, occasionally worked as barmen at illegal bars in Riyadh but, according to many friends and colleagues contacted by The Independent, none of the men was involved in large-scale smuggling. And they described claims that the bombings were related to a "turf war" as laughable.

Jane Rodway, who survived the blast in which her husband died, also rejected the "turf war" theory, as far as Christopher was concerned. "My husband was not involved in any of this illegal drinks business," she said. "We made small amounts of wine for ourselves – 99 per cent of expats do – but contrary to lots of incorrect reports, he did not own the Celtic Corner or any other bar.

"He was a very quiet man, not the sort to get involved in anything like this. We never frequented these bars. If anything, we stayed in a lot. I've had to see all this rubbish written about Christopher, but I want to set the record straight.

"We didn't even know any of those men or anything about them. What I do know is that my husband had no enemies in the world. I honestly don't know who would want to kill him or why."

Saudi dissidents in London say the arrest of Westerners is an attempt to cover up a bombing campaign by Islamic fundamentalists who oppose the West's continuing lack of support for the Palestinian cause.

Saad Al-Fagih, a leading Saudi dissident based in London, has said of the bombings: "The continuation of the attacks after the detention of the accused confirms it is not a matter of a fight over alcohol."

Eight other Britons are still detained, accused of alcohol offences but not bombings. David Mornin, 49, a former fireman from Greenock, has been sentenced to 300 lashes, one year in jail and a £7,400 fine; his father-in-law, Kevin Hawkins, from Lancaster, has been sentenced to 500 lashes and 30 months. Paul Moss, 31, from Merseyside, was sentenced to 500 lashes and two years; Ken Hartley faces 300 lashes and 30 months; and Ron Yates from Bolton, Greater Manchester, has been sentenced to 600 lashes and 20 months in jail.

Three other men, James King, Peter Branden and Gary O'Nions, have yet to be sentenced for their alleged parts in alcohol trading.