A decade of injustice

By Jeremy Hardy (for the Guardian)

In May 1997 Roisin McAliskey was released from Holloway prison just in time to give birth to her daughter. A few days after the birth, still on bail, she was confined to a psychiatric hospital. Some readers might remember that a German prosecutor was seeking her extradition in connection with a failed mortar attack on the British army barracks at Osnabruck, and that a large number of people, me included, were adamant that the then home secretary, Jack Straw, should refuse the application. After many months, he did. Now, when we seem to be commemorating the anniversaries of all years that end in seven, it seems unbelievable that McAliskey is back in court today, facing the same threat she was facing 10 years ago.

Despite the fact that the evidence presented by the Germans was feeble in the extreme, Straw insisted that his decision was based purely on medical reports, and that no criticism of the application was intended. Subsequently, however, the Crown Prosecution Service examined the case with a view to prosecuting McAliskey in the UK, and found that there was no prospect of a conviction.

I have always thought the fact that all the credible evidence points to her innocence did play a part in Straw’s decision to stop the extradition. Then again, he also refused to extradite Augusto Pinochet to Spain, and there were plenty of witnesses to identify him as the man who ran Chile between 1973 and 1990. By contrast, McAliskey was clearly not the woman she was alleged to be, and she was genuinely very ill. As I recall, Pinochet was well enough to stomach whole afternoons spent with Margaret Thatcher. McAliskey’s condition, on the other hand, was extremely precarious.

There were those who chose to believe that, because of pressure from Sinn Féin, the British government sexed up a bit of postnatal depression to get out of an embarrassing predicament. Aside from the fact that postnatal depression can be very serious, McAliskey’s trauma went way beyond it. This was a woman who had been arrested when three months pregnant and taken to Castlereagh interrogation centre. After a week there, she was flown to London and jailed for the remainder of her pregnancy. She was strip-searched more than 70 times.

In fact Straw was not satisfied with the psychiatric reports of those who were caring for her after the birth and commissioned his own. But it went further than the existing reports. The psychiatrist who examined her wrote that sending her to Germany would lead to irrecoverable damage. Straw duly did the decent thing - out of character, perhaps, but credit where it’s due.

So McAliskey was able to go home and try to get her life back on track. When the CPS found no case to answer, that should have been that, logically, morally and legally. But on May 21 this year her road was sealed off by armed police and she was arrested again. It transpired that, last October, Germany had dusted off its old arrest warrant following new Euro legislation whereby a member state can demand an extradition and the defendant can be despatched by a magistrate without any consideration of the evidence.

The old extradition law had one safeguard: the home secretary was obliged to consider whether surrendering the defendant was unjust or oppressive. The new law means our government offers us no protection at all. We can be sent to another jurisdiction and tried there. In Germany that means no right to a jury, and in a case like McAliskey’s a trial of a year or two without bail. She has two children; I don’t know what provision Germany has made for them.

But if the British government can’t do anything, what can the spanking new Northern Ireland executive do? Well, roughly the same, but you might have thought Sinn Féin would be vocalising in some way. Policing was, after all, a sticking point for them. Interestingly, the Serious Organised Crime Agency received the resubmitted German warrant last November. But its officers didn’t turn up at McAliskey’s until May, two weeks after Sinn Féin was safely tucked up in Stormont.

Irish republicans have shown a reluctance to criticise anything about Germany since the Kaiser sent them rifles; I have no such qualms. Its prosecution service deserves opprobrium in this matter. However, I am afraid that we in perfidious Albion also need to buck our ideas up. Our leaders contrive ever more elaborate ways to get us into prison, and outsourcing seems to be one of them. Perhaps Eurosceptics should stop raging about the Human Rights Act and focus on the European arrest warrant.

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