22 Jan 2013

Government condemns Sandiford death penalty

A minister tells MPs that the government “strongly” objects to the death penalty given to grandmother Lindsay Sandiford in Indonesia for drug trafficking.

Sandiford, 56, originally from Redcar in Teesside, was arrested in May 2012 after police in Bali said they found 10.6lb of cocaine in the lining of her suitcase.

She was sentenced after being found guilty of violating the country’s strict drug laws by the Denpasar district court today. Sandiford, listed on immigration documents as a housewife, was stopped as she arrived at Bali’s Ngurah Rai international airport on a Thair Airways flight from Bangkok, Thailand, on 19 May last year.

In the court’s verdict, a judge panel headed by Amser Simanjuntak concluded that Sandiford has damaged the image of Bali as a tourism destination and weakened the government’s programme of drug annihilation.

The cocaine she smuggled was worth around £1.6m. Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire told MPs today she has at least two further avenues of appeal through the courts and also the chance to apply for presidential clemency.

He said: “We are aware that Lindsay Sandiford is facing the death penalty in Indonesia. We strongly object to the death penalty and continue to provide consular assistance to Lindsay and her family during this difficult time.”

Mr Swire added that “repeated representations” had been made to the Indonesian authorities, and Foreign Secretary William Hague had raised the matter with his Indonesian counterpart.

Prosecutors had said during the trial last month that they were seeking a 15-year prison term, and not persuing the maximum penalty for drug trafficking which is death.

Britons on death row in Indonesia

Lindsay Sandiford is the second Briton in the last six months to be sentenced to death for drug offences in Indonesia. Gareth Cashmore from West Yorkshire was sentenced to death by firing squad in October. The 33-year-old roofer from West Yorkshire was originally handed a life sentence for smuggling drugs into Indonesia, but at a hearing in May judges raised the charge to the death penalty. A third Briton is due to be sentenced and may face the death penalty, according to Amnesty International.

Indonesia currently has 114 people on death row, around 40 of whom are foreign nationals. Five foreigners have been executed since 1998, all for drug crimes. But there have been no executions in the country since 2008, when executions peaked with 10 in a single year, according to a report from Australia's Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Britons on death row worldwide

There are 12 Britons currently on death row, the Foreign Office told Channel 4 News. The FCO would not however reveal their locations. A further 55 Britons are awaiting sentencing and may face the death penalty. Overall, some 2,600 British nationals are currently being detained overseas - either in prison, custody, immigration and so on.

Last year, 816 Britons were arrested abroad on drug offences, Foreign Office figures show. The USA detained the highest number of Britons for drug offences last year, with 147 arrests made, followed by Spain with 141, Jamaica with 65, Thailand with 38 and Cyprus with 27.

Sandiford previously told the court she became involved only because “the lives of my children were in danger”.

In her witness statement, she said: “I would like to begin by apologising to the Republic of Indonesia and the Indonesian people for my involvement.

“I would never have become involved in something like this but the lives of my children were in danger and I felt I had to protect them.”

During the trial Sandiford’s lawyer read out a statement from her son which said: “I love my mother very much and have a very close relationship with her.

“I know that she would do anything to protect me. I cannot imagine what I would do if she was sentenced to death in relation to these charges.”

British woman Lindsay Sandiford has been sentenced to death in Bali, Indonesia, for drug trafficking (Image: Getty)

Claims of a ‘fit-up’

Julian Ponder and Rachel Dougall were accused of being involved in the same smuggling operation. Paul Beales was also detained.

At the time of her arrest, Dougall, who has a young daughter, insisted she was the victim of a “fit-up” and Ponder claimed he was “trapped”.

Ponder’s lawyer claimed he was told that Sandiford was delivering a present for his child’s birthday and, when he met her to receive the gift, police officers arrested him.

A verdict is expected in the trial of Ponder tomorrow. He is accused of receiving the drugs in Bali, which has a busy bar and nightclub scene where party drugs such as cocaine and ecstasy are bought and sold between foreigners.

Indonesia has an estimated 114 prisoners on death row. Most of the more than 40 foreigners among them have been convicted of drug crimes, according to a March 2012 report by Australia’s Lowy Institute for International Policy.

Five foreigners have been executed since 1998, all for drug crimes, according to the institute. There have been no executions in the country since 2008, when 10 people were put to death.