NatWest three ‘should be tried in Britain’

Three men accused of financial crimes in the US should be tried in a British court rather than extradited, the Conservatives have said.

Shadow attorney general Dominic Grieve said last night that prosecuting David Bermingham, Giles Darby and Gary Mulgrew in the UK would resolve “public disquiet” about the process of extradition.

There are concerns that the so-called NatWest three, who deny charges of trying to defraud the bank of £12 million, could spend up to two years in a high security US jail before their case even comes to court.

The government has been under growing pressure to address what many see as an unequal arrangement between the UK and US, caused by an extradition treaty that was signed by both countries after September 11th but only ratified by the UK parliament.

The Conservatives are tabling two amendments to the police and justice bill in the House of Lords next week, which would remove the US from the list of countries with special arrangements for extradition until the treaty was ratified by congress.

They would also require a British judge to decide, in cases where the alleged offences were committed partly or mainly in Britain, whether it was in the “interests of justice” for someone to be tried in a country such as the US.

Today, shadow home secretary David Davis said it “beggars belief” that the government had yet to resolve the “manifestly unjust” situation, and accused ministers of misrepresenting the treaty when they said it would only apply to suspected terrorists.

“Quite simply, the government’s assurances in 2003 have turned to dust,” Mr Davis wrote in the The Daily Telegraph.

He added: “These British citizens can be tried for an alleged crime that is supposed to have occurred in Britain against a British company but where no prosecution is taking place in the UK.

“It is far less likely that US citizens in similar circumstances would be extradited to Britain. These allegations are not a minor matter. They would be likely to attract substantial sentences of imprisonment.”

Last night, Mr Grieve said the case of the NatWest three was “threatening to bring not only the extradition system but our own criminal justice system into disrepute”.

The Liberal Democrats have been pursuing the case for some time, and leader Menzies Campbell confronted Tony Blair on the issue in the Commons on Wednesday.

Mr Blair replied: “It is not correct to say that the United States has been given preferential treatment or that the arrangements in respect of evidence are not reciprocal.

“However, I do understand the real concern that the families will have about what happens when they go to the United States, and I have asked our officials to see whether there is any support or assurances that we can give so that if they are extradited, they are given the opportunity to be bailed.”