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Christopher Tappin condemns treatment as US extradition under way

  • 24 February 2012
  • From the section London

A Briton being extradited to the US for allegedly selling batteries for Iranian missiles described his treatment as "a disgrace" as he arrived at Heathrow.

Retired businessman Christopher Tappin had said he was leaving the UK feeling he had fewer rights than a terrorist.

Mr Tappin, 65, from London, is being flown from Heathrow Airport to El Paso, Texas, escorted by US marshals.

Dan Cogdell, Mr Tappin's lawyer in the US, said he would "vigorously argue" for his client to be released on bail.

"There is no reasonable basis to believe that he is a flight risk or a danger. He is a 66-year-old respected businessman with no criminal record whatsoever," Mr Cogdell told BBC News.

Mr Tappin, of Orpington, south-east London, has fought against extradition through the British courts after being charged in the US with conspiring to export batteries which could be used in Hawk air defence missiles.

He faces a trial in El Paso and a possible 35-year jail sentence - but says that he is the victim of entrapment.

British judges say the extradition is lawful and the European Court of Human Rights has refused to intervene.

Mr Tappin's lawyer, Karen Todner, said it was "very likely" her client would now enter into a plea agreement to reduce any sentence that may be imposed.

"If Mr Tappin does not enter into a plea agreement and is found guilty he will have to serve the whole sentence in America, which may actually effectively be the rest of his life, rather than serving a sentence in the UK, therefore I think it's very, very likely that he will enter into a plea agreement," she said.

Last week the European Court of Human Rights refused to intervene in his case. Mr Tappin, a former president of the Kent Golf Society, was ordered to present himself to Heathrow Airport to be taken to the US for trial.

He was seen departing from his house around 08:00 GMT and arrived at Heathrow police station accompanied by his wife Elaine.

Shortly after 10.30am, Mr Tappin's lawyer said British extradition officers had taken Mr Tappin to a plane where he was being handed over to US marshals. The flight was due to land in Texas around 16:00 local time (23:00 GMT).

"He will be arriving in El Paso this afternoon. He will be appearing in court on Monday morning, so he will be in custody over the weekend." The earliest he could be granted bail would be Thursday or Friday, Ms Todner said.

She urged Home Secretary Theresa May to help Mr Tappin intervene with the US authorities to ensure they did not object to bail being granted.

Ms Todner later wrote on Twitter: "Mr Tappin has left for America. Was v distressing when he said goodbye. The extradition treaty is inhumane."

Arriving at the airport, Mr Tappin told reporters it was "a shame, a disgrace" that he was being extradited.

Speaking on Wednesday, Prime Minister David Cameron said that Mr Tappin's case had been thoroughly considered by the Home Secretary Theresa May - but that she was also looking carefully at the full findings of last year's extradition review.

Mr Tappin said: "I look to Mr Cameron to look after my rights and he has failed to do so.

"The Conservative government, while in opposition, promised to reform the law and they failed to do so and they've let me down, they've let you down, they've let the whole country down."

Mr Tappin said he was "not very confident at all" about the case because his witnesses were not permitted to testify via video and would not appear in person in the US.

"I have certainly got enough facts to support my case but without the witnesses, their testimony, it's going to be very difficult," he said.

"We believe there is no evidence... By virtue of an accusation they are allowed to extradite people from one country to another."

Speaking to the BBC earlier, Mr Tappin attacked the UK-US Extradition Treaty, saying: "I feel that I have been treated very unfairly by the whole system. I thought that the British justice system is there to protect me and I found that my rights have been taken away from me."

Comparing his case to that of preacher Abu Qatada, whose deportation from the UK was recently blocked, Mr Tappin said: "I feel that I don't have any human rights because I'm not a terrorist. If I was a terrorist, I would have more rights."

But asked about Mr Tappin's comments, the prime minister's official spokesman said: "They are completely different cases."

'Years of talk'

During his legal battle, Mr Tappin had denied the allegations and said he was the victim of unlawful conduct by US law enforcement agents. In January, the Court of Appeal dismissed that argument , giving the green light to the extradition.

Home Secretary Theresa May signed an order authorising Mr Tappin's extradition in April 2011. The extradition request has also been approved by the High Court and Court of Appeal.

On Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that under the UK-US extradition treaty, certain procedures had to be followed and that was what had happened in Mr Tappin's case.

Critics of the treaty say that it makes the extradition of British nationals easier because the US has to produce less evidence to support their case.

But last year, a massive review of extradition by a senior judge found that the treaty was fair to British citizens.

Ahead of Mr Tappin's extradition, Fair Trials International said nothing had been done about extradition reform after "years of talk".

"It is high time the government brings forward concrete proposals to build much-needed safeguards into our laws," chief executive Jago Russell said.

Isabella Sankey, of civil rights group Liberty, said: "No British court has ever been allowed to examine any evidence against Christopher Tappin or consider whether he should be tried here.

"Even if a US jury eventually finds him not guilty, he'll still spend years in a Texan jail awaiting trial - thousands of miles from his home and sick wife.

"No-one is immune from such unfair treatment and it's high time the government put some common sense and compassion back into our extradition laws."

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