UK renews court battle to oust preacher

By Nigel Morris

Home Secretary Theresa May will make a fresh effort to remove Abu Qatada from Britain after the European Court of Human Rights rejected his attempt to appeal against deportation to Jordan to face terror charges.

But the Home Secretary also faced embarrassment as the panel of judges in Strasbourg ruled the radical Muslim cleric's appeal had arrived within the deadline.

Abu Qatada, once described as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, will now take his 11-year fight against deportation back to the British courts. But the ECHR panel's decision not to allow him to appeal to its Grand Chamber narrows his legal options.

The Home Office is examining ways of accelerating the case through the courts in the hope he can be deported within months rather than years.

May said: "It has always been the Government's intention that the Qatada case should be heard in the British courts, so I am pleased by the European Court's decision today.

"I remain confident that the assurances I have secured from the Jordanian Government mean we will be able to put Qatada on a plane and get him out of Britain for good."

The ECHR ruled that Abu Qatada's appeal on the night of April 17 was within the court's deadline, meaning May was wrong when she claimed the three-month appeal deadline from the court's original decision on January 17 expired on the night of April 16.

No reasons were given for the panel's decision to reject his request for an appeal, which centred on Abu Qatada's claims that he could be tortured if he was sent to Jordan.

The ruling was separate from the ECHR's initial bar on deportation, which required the Government to first obtain an assurance from Jordan that evidence gained through torture would not be used against the cleric.

May travelled to Jordan this year in an attempt to obtain such a promise.

Qatada's lawyers applied to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission for a fresh bail hearing but no date has yet been set.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "We are all very lucky that the Home Secretary's major mistake has not led to Abu Qatada's application for appeal being granted.

"Now is the time for Theresa May to apologise for such a potentially catastrophic error of judgment."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We are obviously very pleased with the decision.

"It means that the case will now be heard in a British court and it is clearly our intention still to deport this man."

- Independent

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