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Human rights: European Court rules that UK cannot deport Jordanian cleric

The UK Government yesterday lost its legal battle to have a terror suspect deported to Jordan to face trial.

Abu Qatada was formerly described as Osama Bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe, but seven judges at the European Court of Human Rights have ruled that he would not receive a fair hearing in the Middle Eastern state.

Qatada, whose real name is Omar Othman, has been detained in the UK facing deportation for six years.

A court in his homeland of Jordan found him guilty of involvement in two bomb plots, and has been seeking his extradition to face punishment for those charges. However, the ECHR judges were told that evidence used in his trial in Jordan was obtained using torture, and that therefore any conviction against Mr Qatada is unsafe. They concluded that deportation would subject him to an unfair legal process.

Mr Qatada's case has become something of a test for the UK Government's policy on handling detainees suspected of involvement in terrorist activity abroad.

The ECHR acknowledged that an agreement signed between the UK and Jordan in 2005 preventing torture from being used on deported suspects would protect Mr Qatada from harm. However, they also ruled that it would not prevent a retrial from being flawed.

"In the absence of any assurance by Jordan that the torture evidence would not be used, his deportation to Jordan to be retried would give rise to a flagrant denial of justice," the court said in a statement.

The UK Government last night indicated that it intended to appeal the judgment. Under European Law a decision of the ECHR can be challenged by requesting a review by a further five judges.

"This is not the end of the road, and we will now consider all the legal options available to us. In the meantime, Qatada will remain in detention in the UK," said Home Secretary Theresa May.

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