Letter: FO's help in baby trial

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Sir: Daniel Jeffreys ("The lessons of Caroline's tragedy", 6 March) makes a distinction between the actions of our New York Consulate - "exemplary, giving genuine and effective help" - and the Foreign Office who "barely lifted a finger".

The New York Consulate General gets its instructions from the Foreign Office. It got them in the tragic case of Caroline Beale, as her lawyer generously and publicly acknowledged. Consular staff were by her side throughout from her first to her final court appearance.

It is disingenuous to suggest that with more official help she might have avoided the need to plead guilty. In countries with democratically elected authorities such matters are for the courts and the lawyers, not governments. It would be a bad day for justice if governments meddled whenever one of their citizens appeared before foreign courts.

Our policy is clear and has remained unchanged since Palmerston. If we have good evidence of a miscarriage or denial of justice we will intervene at whatever level is necessary to protect a British national. But in all other cases, and whatever our sympathies, it is for the courts to determine the outcome, as they have for Caroline Beale. We are glad she can now come home.

Jeremy Hanley MP

Minister of State

Foreign and Commonwealth Office

London SW1