UK Politics

Extradited Chris Tappin's wife breaks down in Commons

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Media captionElaine Tappin: "We had nine days notice... we stared into a wholly uncertain future"

The wife of a Briton extradited to the United States has broken down as she described his case to MPs.

Chris Tappin, 65, of Orpington, south-east London, was extradited last week over claims he conspired to sell batteries for use in Iranian missiles.

His wife Elaine told the Commons home affairs committee of her dismay that UK courts were not interested in his case.

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC told MPs issues with the UK-US extradition treaty were "not readily curable".

Critics say the treaty makes the extradition of British nationals easier than extraditing US nationals because the US authorities have to produce less evidence to support their case than their British counterparts.

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

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has 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.

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

Mr Tappin, a retired businessman, denies trying to sell batteries for use by Iran in Hawk missiles and says he has been the victim of an FBI sting.

Mrs Tappin began reading a witness statement to MPs on the Commons committee, but broke down in tears.

In her evidence, she told the committee, which has been examining extradition legislation, she was "dumbfounded" to discover in May 2010 that her husband had been indicted in 2007.

"We were convinced that once the courts had heard Chris's explanation they would clear up the mess."

Mrs Tappin said when her husband's appeal against extradition was finally heard at London's Royal Courts of Justice, Lord Justice Hooper repeatedly said "we're not talking innocence or guilt here".

"Shouldn't it be a basic requirement that a proper case be made out against Chris in a UK court before subjecting him to total disruption to his life, and freedom, that extradition entails? Isn't that the cornerstone of British justice?" she asked.

'Stressful and distressing'

"As far as the extradition process is concerned, it isn't until you're placed in this terrible position of not being able to put forward your defence that you begin to understand that the British courts will not listen to you."

She said she could never have imagined that what she called a "preposterous request" from the US could be taken seriously by the British courts.

"They are only looking at whether he should be extradited in terms of the treaty and not the evidence of the case."

Attorney General Dominic Grieve QC told the committee that there had never been a time in Britain when extradition had been "founded on a review of the likely guilt or innocence".

Image caption Chris Tappin was extradited to the US on Friday

Mr Grieve said that the extradition of someone of Mr Tappin's age would always be "stressful and distressing", but he said evidence suggested there had been "rather considerable scrutiny" of his case.

It was "absolutely indispensable" for Britain to have the facility to extradite, he said.

But Mr Grieve acknowledged that there were fundamental problems with the UK-US extradition treaty that were "not very easy to address".

Mr Grieve said if given the chance to rewrite the UK's extradition laws, he was not sure that he would have started from the Extradition Act 2003 .

But he added: "This treaty obligation was entered into by the last Labour government and it was ratified by Parliament at the time. It is an existing fact."

Mr Grieve said that the US consistently supplied material "well over the extradition test" and that he was unsure if changing the treaty would lead to "dramatically different outcomes".

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Menzies Campbell also addressed the committee. Sir Menzies is carrying out a review of Britain's extradition policy on behalf of party leader Nick Clegg.

He said repealing the Extradition Act 2003 would "prima facie put us in breach of a treaty obligation".

Sir Menzies said such a move would affect Britain's reputation and general relationship with the United States but was a measure that "at the very least will have to be in contemplation".

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