Why will Charles Taylor be jailed in Britain?

By Chris Summers
BBC News

image captionCharles Taylor, seen here in his heyday in 1997, is heading for a British prison

Former Liberian President Charles Taylor - convicted of aiding and abetting war crimes during the Sierra Leone civil war - will serve his sentence in a British jail. Why is this and where might he be housed?

In the spring of 2006, Charles Taylor's luck finally ran out.

The one-time president of Liberia was arrested and handed over to Irish soldiers representing the United Nations, and found himself in custody for the first time.

Because of fears his trial could renew instability in West Africa, Taylor, 64, was put on trial at a special UN-backed court in The Hague.

The Netherlands only agreed to host his trial as long as he was imprisoned in another country if he was convicted.

In June that year, the UK government offered to house Taylor in a British jail if he was convicted.

A special Act of Parliament, the International Tribunals (Sierra Leone) Act 2007 , had to be passed - a demonstration of what the government said was its "commitment to international justice".

It was not the first time the UK had made such an offer - if he had been convicted, the former President of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, would have been housed in a British jail.

However, Milosevic died in 2006 while on trial in The Hague on charges of war crimes and genocide.

At home or abroad?

Taylor was president of Liberia, but faced 11 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in connection with the brutal civil war in neighbouring Sierra Leone, which ended in 2001.

image captionCharles Taylor could initially be housed in Belmarsh Prison

He was accused of funding Sierra Leone's former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), by selling diamonds on their behalf and buying weapons for them.

RUF fighters were notorious for hacking off the arms and legs of the civilian population with machetes, as well as killing, raping and robbing them.

On Thursday, Taylor was found guilty of aiding and abetting rebels in committing the 11 crimes but was cleared of ordering them.

Jon Silverman, a professor of media and criminal justice at the University of Bedfordshire, says imprisoning those convicted by the Special Court for Sierra Leone abroad has been controversial.

Eight people found guilty by the court are currently serving their sentences in Rwanda. Some of them have complained about harassment and brutality by the guards at Mpanga prison.

"By contrast, many in Sierra Leone believe the prisoners are being held in the lap of luxury and would like to see them transferred to Freetown's notorious Pademba Road jail," Prof Silverman says.

One of the inmates at Mpanga, Issa Sesay - a leading figure in the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) - is serving a sentence of 52 years.

Prof Silverman says that while Taylor's sentence is unlikely to be as long, his term will not be subject to review by the UK's Parole Board.

The Prison Service says any decision on his release from prison would be determined by the Special Court for Sierra Leone.

Which prison?

The Guardian newspaper's prisons correspondent, Eric Allison, says Taylor will end up in a high-security prison.

"He would no doubt initially go to Belmarsh [in south-east London], which has a special high-security unit for terrorists and such like.

"Then he would probably be sent to one of the high-security prisons - Frankland [in County Durham], Full Sutton [near York] or Whitemoor [in Cambridgeshire].

"He would be considered high-risk as he presumably still has access to funds and has followers who might be willing to help him escape."

However, Mr Allison says he is unlikely to be at risk of attack from other prisoners, and would not be held in isolation.

He says Taylor might well end up in Norwich prison, which has special facilities to cope with elderly patients.

British gangster Reggie Kray spent time there before his death in 2000, and Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs was freed from Norwich jail on compassionate grounds in 2009.

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