Abu Qatada case has cost UK £1.7m, home secretary says

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Abu Qatada
Image caption,
Abu Qatada faces terrorism charges in Jordan

The eight-year legal fight to deport radical cleric Abu Qatada from the UK has cost taxpayers more than £1.7m so far, the home secretary has said.

In a letter to MPs, Theresa May said the total was £1,716,306, including £647,658 on legal aid for Abu Qatada.

The Home Office had spent £938,630 fighting the case in UK courts and another £130,018 at the European Court of Human Rights, she said.

Abu Qatada faces a retrial in Jordan on charges of plotting bomb attacks.

He has successfully fought against deportation by arguing he would not get a fair trial because evidence obtained under torture could be used against him.

Both the UK and Jordan want Abu Qatada deported, but the European Court of Human Rights in Starsbourg and senior British judges have ruled that before that can happen, Jordan must show he would not face a trial that relied on evidence obtained by torturing others.

'Shocking' cost

On Wednesday, Jordan's parliament approved a treaty with the UK designed to make the deportation possible. It is now awaiting approval by Jordan's King Abdullah - the final stage before the deal can become law.

The treaty is also being considered by MPs and peers at Westminster, and is expected to become part of British law on 21 June - meaning deportation proceedings could resume.

Abu Qatada has already indicated he will not challenge deportation if the treaty is passed because the document guarantees him a fair trial.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "I am shocked that Abu Qatada's legal costs alone could have employed 90 new constables for a year."

Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would be "one of the happiest people in Britain" if Abu Qatada were to leave voluntarily.

Behind bars

Abu Qatada arrived in Britain and claimed asylum in 1993, but became notorious for preaching radical views such as support for the killing of Jews and people who leave Islam.

In 1999, the cleric was convicted of terrorism charges in his absence in Jordan and sentenced to life in prison.

He now faces a retrial on those charges, but his lawyers have said some of the evidence comes from people who were tortured to make them implicate him.

Britain has been trying to deport Abu Qatada since 2005, and he has been detained and released several times during the legal battle.

He is currently in London's Belmarsh Prison after breaching a bail condition which restricted use of mobile phones and other communication devices.