The government pulls its £5.9bn bid to train Saudi Arabian justice officials, as David Cameron promises to intervene over the proposed flogging of British grandfather Karl Andree in the Gulf kingdom.
The 74-year-old’s family say he has been sentenced to more than 300 lashes – a punishment they fear could prove fatal – after being caught with home-made wine in his car by Saudi religious police.
Alcohol is forbidden in Saudi Arabia, whose laws are derived from the Islamic Sharia system.
Downing Street announced that the Prime Minister would now intervene personally in Mr Andree’s case.
The Prime Minister’s spokeswoman said: “This is an extremely concerning case. We have been providing consular assistance to Mr Andree and to his family since he was first arrested and we have raised the case repeatedly in recent weeks.
“Given the ongoing concerns and the fact we would like to see more progress, the PM is writing today to the Saudis to further raise the case on the back of the action that has already been taken by the Foreign Office.”
In his letter to a senior figure in the Saudi government, “the Prime Minister will outline some of the concerns that we have around this case and this individual”, she added.
Downing Street also announced that the government has pulled out of a plan to bid for a contract to train staff in the Saudi penal system, though Number 10 said the decision was made separately from the intervention in the case of Mr Andree.
The spokeswoman said: “This bid to provide additional training to Saudi Arabia has been reviewed, and the Government has decided it won’t be proceeding with the bid.”
She added that the decision was based on an examination of the “priorities” for the Ministry of Justice and a decision to “focus on some of the domestic priorities we want to do in terms of reforms here”.
“Having looked at it further again, we have established that we can withdraw at this stage, there will be no financial penalty and consequently that decision has been taken.”
Mr Andree’s son Simon Andree said: “I’m pleased. It has taken an awful long time. I need to speak with my family.”
“I just hope that the breakdown of this deal won’t affect him. It was never my intention. I hope it won’t impact upon him. This case was always about my father’s health.”
The pensioner’s family have described him as frail. Mr Andree is said to have survived three bouts of cancer. He has already spent more than a year in prison.
Saudi Arabia has become embroiled in a number of human rights controversies recently.
The oil-rich kingdom is a partner of the UK in the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq.
The Saudis are also leading a coalition fighting Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen for more than six months.
David Cameron indicated last week that he would attempt to personally raise the case of Ali Mohammed al-Nimr, the teenager sentenced to execution and crucifixion by the Saudis, if an “opportunity” came up.