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Syria weapons question 'hit case'

Published 01/06/2015

Bherlin Gildo was due to stand trial at the Old Bailey accused of attending a terrorist training camp and receiving weapons training
Bherlin Gildo was due to stand trial at the Old Bailey accused of attending a terrorist training camp and receiving weapons training

The British Government's refusal to "own up" to whether it sent arms to the Syrian resistance was among the issues that led to the terror case against a Swedish man collapsing, his lawyer claimed today.

Bherlin Gildo was due to stand trial at the Old Bailey accused of attending a terrorist training camp in Syria and receiving weapons training between August 2012 and March 2013 as well as possessing information likely to be useful to a terrorist.

The 37-year-old was in transit at Heathrow airport on route to visit his wife in the Philippines when he was arrested in October last year - even though fighting in Syria is not an offence in his native country.

During a brief hearing at the Old Bailey, p rosecutor Riel Karmy-Jones QC offered no evidence after a Crown Prosecution Service review in light of the "issues" that had arisen in his case.

Afterwards, Gildo's solicitor Gareth Peirce said : "He has been detained in this country although he did not ever intend to enter this country. For him it's as if he has been abducted by aliens from outer space.

"The process is beyond comprehension for a Swedish man who has committed no offence in Sweden who went to Syria to help defend the Syrian people in late 2012.

"He returned to Sweden, had committed no crime there, lived there for the next two years, by an accident of fate, clicked on the cheapest flight to go and join his wife in the Philippines and then had the misfortune to chance it through Heathrow airport."

The case had exposed a number of "contradictions" and raised the question whether the British government at the time had been involved directly or indirectly in arming the resistance.

But attempts to get disclosure on this issue had come to nothing, she said.

The lawyer said: "There is a fair amount of documentation that arms were being taken out of Libya via Qatar and Turkey and trucked through into Syria to the resistance and the same from Croatia and taken through Jordan.

"Given that there is a reasonable basis for believing that the British were themselves involved in the supply of arms, if that's so, it would be an utter hypocrisy to prosecute someone who has been involved in the armed resistance."

She went on to say former foreign secretary William Hague himself had described the situation in Syria as the worst humanitarian crisis of this century and the British government stood behind the resistance by sending non-lethal support.

Even if the government was not willing to "own up" to sending arms directly or indirectly, it was wrong to prosecute someone in Gildo's position under the Terrorism Act, Ms Peirce said.

Another of the contradictions was the "complete divergence between European countries as to how they view defending people under threat in another country at a time of acute crisis", she said.

"Sweden's approach is the polar opposite of this country to say 'it is not a crime and if you have gone and come back we will help you come back and resettle' - the same approach is taken by Danish authorities."

She cited a senior member of the Foreign Office who had recently called for the UK to address the issue of people returning from Syria.

During the hearing, Ms Karmy-Jones told the court: "As my Lord is aware the prosecution requested an adjournment of three weeks to consider a number of different issues that had arisen at various stages of the case.

"The prosecution has taken the opportunity to review the evidence in the case and the case as a whole.

"Significant care and attention had been taken in this review. The Attorney General and director of public prosecutions have been kept informed.

"Following that full review the prosecution consider there is no longer a reasonable prospect of conviction in this case."

The prosecutor said the decision to drop charges in the case had no bearing on other Syria-related trials in the UK.

She said there were currently 16 such prosecutions involving 30 defendants and there had already been 18 convictions.

The Recorder of London Nicholas Hilliard QC formally entered not guilty verdicts on all three of the charges.

The judge said the issues surrounding the situation in Syria had "ranged far and wide".

He said: "The issues that arose included what the Government had said about a humanitarian crisis, the complexity of the situation on the ground, the involvement of the Swedish authorities, how the defendant came to be in this country and the information which had led to him being stopped."

Gildo, who appeared via video link from top security Belmarsh prison wearing a black fleece and red trousers, just nodded that he understood what had happened in the court.

At an earlier Old Bailey hearing, Ms Karmy-Jones had said "third parties" held material that the defence had asked to be disclosed in preparation for the case.

Defending, Henry Blaxland QC responded that it would take no-one by surprise that this material was under the control of Government ministers - the security services effectively.

Gildo, who has been held in custody since his arrest in October last year, is now understood to be hoping to return home to Sweden as soon as possible.

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