UK Politics

PM steps back from claims over Qatada deadline advice

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Media captionDavid Cameron said he was "content that the Home Office acted properly"

David Cameron has appeared to step back from an assertion that the Home Office received specific assurances about Abu Qatada's deportation appeal deadline.

The prime minister said earlier that UK officials "were told throughout that the deadline expired on the Monday night" by staff at the European Court.

But later he told the BBC their "assumption and understanding" was that Abu Qatada had until Monday 16 April.

The terror suspect eventually lodged his appeal on Tuesday 17.

Lawyers for the Palestinian-Jordanian preacher, who is wanted in Jordan on bomb plotting charges, said the government had got the date wrong.

'Must be correct'

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Monday morning, Mr Cameron said: "The Home Office was working on the basis of the deadline being Monday night... that was something that they had checked with the court over a period."

He was then pushed on what officials asked the court and what the precise response was.

When it was put to him, "Did they ask the court [about the deadline]?", he replied: "Yes."

When he was then asked, "And did they tell you [the deadline]?", he replied: "Yes, absolutely."

Mr Cameron went on to say: "They were told throughout that the deadline expired on the Monday night."

A Home Office spokesman would not confirm that, although he did say: "If the prime minister has said it, it must be correct."

Later, in an interview with the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson, the prime minister was asked again about the issue.

He replied: "Throughout that process the Home Office and the Foreign Office had regularly discussed with the European Court of Human Rights what the deadline was...

"Their assumption, and the assumption and understanding was the Monday night, so I'm content that the Home Office acted properly."

On Monday afternoon a senior spokesman for the Home Office said it "endorses what the prime minister said this morning".

'Know the truth'

Home Secretary Theresa May told MPs last week the government believed the deadline for appeal was Monday 16 April, based on conversations between UK officials and those at the European Court.

The government also referred to precedent from other similar cases which had been through the court.

But Mrs May did not say that specific advice from the court confirmed that the deadline was the end of Monday night.

Labour has demanded that the home secretary make public the evidence received about the deadline.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "We need to know the truth to prevent these errors happening again.

"The home secretary is appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee tomorrow and has the opportunity to come clean, to provide the advice she was given and who knew what and when."

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