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Third Briton jailed for entering Iraq

IRAQ has jailed a Briton and a German for eight years for illegal entry, after arresting them at gunpoint on the border between Kuwait and Iraq, diplomats said yesterday.

Simon Dunn, who was detained on 28 May for alleged illegal entry and jailed for eight years last week, is aged 23 and was living in Kuwait, the Foreign Office said. Whitehall released few details about Mr Dunn, but the Gulf Support Group said his parents also live in the Gulf, although his family is from North-west England. The support group was set up before the Gulf war to lobby on behalf of Britons held as 'human shields', President Saddam Hussein's policy of keeping foreigners hostage in Iraq in a vain attempt to prevent the West from taking military action after his invasion of Kuwait.

Mr Dunn is the third Briton to be jailed by Iraq for illegal entry in just over a year, and the case has prompted charges that Baghdad is seeking to ensnare foreigners. Paul Ride, 33, a catering manager from east London, who was working in Kuwait, was jailed for seven years last June. Michael Wainwright, 42, from Sowerby Bridge, West Yorkshire, was arrested a few weeks earlier and sentenced to 10 years. He had been cycling through Iraq on his way to Australia.

Mr Dunn was arrested at gunpoint with the German at Umm Qasr, and both were sentenced in Baghdad just eight days later. The British government roundly condemned the Iraqis when news of Mr Dunn's arrest emerged today, describing his sentence as 'outrageous and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence'.

Official protests have been lodged and Russian diplomats in Baghdad, who have represented British interests since diplomatic ties were broken with London, are trying to gain access to Mr Dunn to establish how he is. The Foreign Office is also making behind-the-scenes efforts to secure the men's release.

'We have approached a friendly government and asked that they use their contacts with Iraq to remind Baghdad that no useful purpose will be served by detaining Britons . . . in that way,' a spokeswoman said. Two Foreign Office staff are to visit Baghdad to urge President Saddam to release the prisoners.

The Gulf Support Group today accused the Iraqis of 'playing games with people', and Mr Ride's wife, Julie, said she was 'furious' that 'another family has to suffer like ours'. She added: 'Saddam is still using civilians as political pawns.'

Stephen Brookes of the Gulf Support Group accused the Iraqis of luring people to the border with the intention of detaining them. He said he had heard reports that the two men were arrested while UN observers, who oversee the demilitarised zone by the border, looked on helplessly.

Mr Wainwright's sister, Susan Priestley, sent a message of support to Mr Dunn's family. 'I hope they get in touch because even just talking about it helps. Julie and I spend hours on the phone having regular talks, and we find it therapeutic.'

Mr Dunn is being held with Mr Ride and Mr Wainwright at Abu Ghraib prison, whose visiting room bears a quotation from the Koran: 'Punishment is a part of life.' The Labour MP George Galloway, who visited the first two British prisoners, described conditions in the jail as 'not too bad'. He said the two had described the prison regime as relaxed, but numbingly empty.

'There is no distraction of any kind,' he quoted Mr Ride as saying. 'There is a school, but tuition is in Arabic and no use to us. We wake up at 7am for the first muster of the day, then there is nothing until muster at 1pm, then nothing until the final muster at 7.30pm when we must return to our cells.' Iraq has refused to free either Mr Ride or Mr Wainwright unless Britain hands over millions of pounds in Iraqi assets seized during the Gulf war. London has steadfastly refused to do so until Iraq complies fully with UN resolutions relating to the war.

Mr Galloway, who visited Mr Ride and Mr Wainwright in jail last month, said he was shocked that anyone would be 'irresponsible' enough to go near the border. 'It seems extraordinary to me that we still have people ridiculously irresponsible enough to be strolling along that border. Why do that, given the dangers that there are?' he told Independent Radio News.

Several foreigners have been arrested after straying into the demilitarised border zone since the 1991 war when Iraq was ejected from Kuwait. Last year the Iraqis arrested three Swedes, two Americans, a Filipino and a Pakistani, accusing them all of illegal entry. The Swedes, the Filipino and the Pakistani were sentenced to seven years in prison, one American to eight years, while the other American was freed.