Letter: Foreign Office aid for Britons jailed abroad

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am writing in response to the article 'The trials of innocence abroad' (23 September). I can understand the distress which Nicholas Brown's parents felt while their son was in prison in India, but the suggestion that they were not supported by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office is untrue.

Mr Brown was arrested in India on 21 December 1990. He had previously been arrested on 17 February 1989 on a similar drugs charge. During his imprisonment, he was provided with full consular assistance by the British Deputy High Commission in Bombay. He was visited regularly by one of our consular representatives, who also kept in close contact with his lawyer to ensure that the case was brought to trial as soon as possible. The Foreign Office transferred funds to Bombay 14 times on behalf of Mr Brown and his mother, who visited India for several months. A statutory fee of pounds 15 is charged for this - why should the taxpayer pay?

Mr Brown was acquitted on 6 November last year. The court allowed 90 days, during which he was obliged to remain in India, in order to allow the prosecution to file an appeal against acquittal. Mr Brown could have applied for the return of his passport four weeks after the 90- day period had expired, ie, in mid- March 1993. Our consular staff were ready to help, but Mr Brown delayed making contact with them or his lawyer about his passport.

British consular staff offer whatever help they reasonably can to British citizens who are arrested overseas. They are visited as soon as possible after their arrest by a consular representative who explains what a consul can and cannot do. The prisoner is given notes on the local legal and prison systems, a list of local lawyers and details of any legal aid schemes available. In many countries, including India, consular staff continue to visit British prisoners at least quarterly after the first visit. They are available at any time to give help or advice.

There are limits to what can be done. Many young Britons are imprisoned abroad because they have broken foreign laws. Drug offences are particularly common. We cannot interfere in the legal systems of foreign countries, and would resent it if they interfered in ours.

Yours truly,

DOUGLAS HURD

Secretary of State

Foreign & Commonwealth Office

London, SW1

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