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Post by party animal - not! Thu 07 Aug 2014, 15:25

An interesting story from 2007 - do we have it?

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George Clooney saved my life

As I was marched to my cell I passed a man hanging by his wrists, arms twisted behind his back, his feet swinging a metre above the ground. His handcuffs had cut into his wrists and blood was running down his arms to form puddles on the floor.

Other prisoners scuttled by, heads bowed, eyes averted, trying not to catch their unfortunate comrade's gaze. Next time, perhaps, it would be them.

This was my welcome to Kenitra jail in Morocco. I had been extradited here from Spain after months on remand in squalid prisons without ever being charged with a crime - or even questioned.

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I still found it impossible to believe that, in 2004, an innocent British citizen could be left to rot in a medieval dungeon. But that's what was happening to me ... and I couldn't see any escape.

My imprisonment had been triggered by a simple job I had undertaken seven years before when, as a 34-year-old marine engineer from the Isle of Wight, I had been hired to deliver a boat to Morocco.

The boat, the Cygnet, was an ex-naval patrol ship from the 1970s, formerly under the command of the Princess Royal's husband, Commodore Tim Laurence. She had been sitting in a Southampton dock for three years and a Spanish businessman had finally taken her off the Royal Navy's hands.

The boat had deteriorated badly in its years in storage. But the voyage went well until we reached the Bay of Biscay, where we ran into a huge storm.

All the sediment that had been lying in the bottom of the fuel tanks for the previous three years was shaken up and the engines started cutting out.

I laboured day and night to keep them going, but as we neared the coast of Morocco the inevitable happened and we had to ask the Agadir coastguard to tow us in.

As we moored, 15 men in uniform screamed at us to stay on the boat until they had searched it. Anyone would have thought we'd turned up in a nuclear submarine.

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The men poured on board and spent all day searching every square inch of the boat - but didn't find a hint of contraband.

The boat's owner also showed up. 'You need to get your fuel tanks cleaned out before you start using this boat,' I told him.

He wasn't a happy man and seemed to think the Royal Navy had ripped him off. Maybe he had a point.

A routine job was ending in confusion and suspicion, and I couldn't wait to leave this dusty, noisy port and get back to the

Isle of Wight. As soon as the new owner had paid my wages, I jumped on a plane to Britain and tried to put the whole thing behind me.

In the following years, I carried on doing boat deliveries, mostly to places such as Malta, Gibraltar and Cyprus. I come from a very respectable, middle-class family - my father was a successful civil engineer with an MBE for charity work - but I loved travel and always wanted a life of adventure.

By October 2004, however, I felt ready for a change. I had fallen in love with a beautiful woman, Jane, and planned to use an £80,000 profit from selling my house to start my own business.

I was bursting with ideas - renovating storm- damaged boats, perhaps, or running cruises through French canals. There were lots of options.

To get my thoughts in order, I decided to have a week's holiday windsurfing in Spain before knuckling down to my new life. It was when I arrived in Malaga on a cheap flight from Gatwick, and queued up for passport control, that things began to go terribly wrong.

The queue was moving pretty fast and the officials were just nodding people through, hardly seeming to look at their documents. But when I held my passport up to the window, everything became a blur.

Someone grabbed my arms from behind and I felt the cold hard steel of handcuffs cutting into my wrists. I was yanked out of the queue by a squad of airport officials and hustled through a side door without a word being said.

Most of the other people in the queue wouldn't have known anything had happened, although those closest to me looked stunned.

As the door closed behind me, all the bustle and noise of the airport outside were silenced and it was just me and the wordless officials.

It was as if I had simply been spirited away from the normal world into some parallel existence, like a character in a children's fantasy. In front of me was an empty metal cage, dimly lit and stinking of urine.

Throwing open the door, they undid my cuffs and pushed me in, slamming the cage shut behind me. I shouted: 'What's going on? I'm English!' But the officials just looked through me as if they couldn't hear.

All I could think was that this must be a case of mistaken identity. Once they realised, they would let me out - and I'd soon be in the nearest bar, laughing it all off.

But after two hours alone in the gloom, my shouts for attention utterly ignored, I realised no one was coming to free me.

I rolled up my jacket as a pillow and lay down on the concrete bunk that was the cage's only furniture. I didn't sleep a

The next morning I was taken to the police station. Nobody would speak to me as I sat all day in handcuffs, straining to pick up any clues from the Spanish voices babbling around me. Then I heard the word 'Morocco' - and something clicked into place.

It was a memory from six years before. It had started with a phone call to my house on the Isle of Wight.

'This is British Interpol,' the voice said. 'Do you remember delivering a boat to Agadir in Morocco?' 'Yeah,' I said, 'I remember it well.'

Two plainclothes policemen asked to meet me in a pub, where they told me cocaine had been seized from the boat ten weeks after I had delivered it.

'It didn't have any drugs when I was on it,' I told them. 'The Moroccans searched it.'

They seemed happy with my story and left, suggesting that 'if I was you I wouldn't go back to Morocco just at the moment'. So this was why I had been arrested, seven years later.

Though British Interpol had never warned me, there was an outstanding international warrant for my arrest. Now the Moroccans wanted to extradite me so I could stand trial for supplying a boat for a drug deal.

It was all such obvious nonsense that at first I felt relieved. This was modern Europe - no way would they keep me locked up once they realised I was innocent.

But it wasn't that simple. When I tried to tell the Malaga police they were making a mistake they just shrugged it off.

I could see they were sure I was guilty and that these were just the predictable protestations of any arrested crook.

The fear and frustration were all too much and I broke down in tears. All I could do was pray the British authorities would rescue me.

I was herded off with a group of other prisoners - some of them very scary looking - and driven to the local prison, where we were marched in front of a high desk.

I could only half understand the orders the guards were growling and grunting at us, and so followed the lead of the other prisoners as they stripped and piled up their clothes on the desk, where three officers were going through everything, searching for drugs and weapons.

Once we were naked, officers had us bend over so they could carry out an intimate body search. It was as if all my dignity had been stripped off with my clothes and I had been reduced to nothing more than an animal.

After about 20 minutes of peering and prodding, I was shoved into a bare cell, where a warder threw in a bundle of blankets and a rock-hard lump of foam for a pillow.

It was about 4am by now, but the noise in the jail was deafening - doors banging, keys rattling and prisoners shouting to each other through the barred windows. My nerves were in shreds.

When dawn came, I discovered I was in a wing containing about 200 people. About a quarter of them were British and they all seemed to be in for smuggling, selling or using cocaine.

Many of them seemed like caricatures of East End villains. There was one guy in particular, about 50 years old, with a bright red drinker's face, wearing a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, who made no secret of his taste for cocaine. 'I'll do as much as I can get down my face,' he rasped cheerfully.

After a few days, I finally got a chance to phone my elderly mother.

'Hello, dear,' she said innocently. 'I'm having troubles, Mother,' I confessed. 'I'm in Spain and I've ended up in prison.' I couldn't stop crying.

'Don't worry, dear,' Mum said, 'we'll sort it out.'

My girlfriend Jane had already swung into action after learning from friends that I hadn't made it out of the airport. She contacted the British Embassy, but they refused to interfere in another country's legal system.

All they would do was give her a list of Spanish lawyers. The only one who claimed to be able to help was a woman called InÈs Barba Novoa, who came to see me. She filled in the gaps in Interpol's story of what had happened to the Cygnet.

It turned out that the Spanish businessman who bought the boat from the Royal Navy was really a member of the giant Colombian Cali cartel, which controlled 80 per cent of the cocaine trade to the United States.

The boat had been renamed the Duanas and sailed to the Canary Islands under a Colombian crew to be loaded with six tons of cocaine with a street value of over £600 million.

My advice to clean out the fuel tanks had been ignored, so the engines duly failed and the coastguards intercepted the boat drifting off the Moroccan coast, but not before the new crew had dumped a large proportion of their cargo overboard.

Hundreds of packages washed up on Moroccan beaches, where they were found by local people - some of whom, not realising what the white powder was, attempted to do their laundry with it.

The Moroccan authorities were furious and decided to make an example of anyone they could link to the boat. Never mind that I knew nothing about the plot - and had been back in Britain before an ounce of cocaine was loaded aboard.

Ines explained that I was going to have to wait 30 days before the extradition application was sorted out.

'You are innocent, aren't you?' 'Yes,' I assured her. 'Then Spain will not be able to make a just case to send you. Keep calm and you'll soon be home.'

I forced myself to tolerate another three weeks of prison life, but it wasn't easy. Every morning I would wake up covered in flea bites - the blankets must have been alive with them.

The authorities decided to move me to Valdemoro high security prison near Madrid, so one morning I was thrown into a van known as a 'sweat box'. It was filled with a dozen compartments the size of Portaloos, just big enough for two men to sit side by side.

The smell of urine was overpowering, the walls covered in grime. There were no air vents or windows. In the afternoon, halfway through the journey, the van stopped so the guards could have their siesta while we prisoners were left cooking in the sun in our little boxes.

Valdemoro was an intimidating place, full of hardened criminals with scars and heavy tattoos. The guards rarely came onto the wing, watching everything through one-way, bulletproof windows.

Once, a prisoner had an epileptic fit in the dining room and swallowed his tongue. He'd gone blue and stopped breathing, but no guards appeared.

A couple of inmates from another wing arrived through automatic doors with a stretcher to take him to the hospital wing. It was as if the whole prison was being operated by remote control.

The facilities were primitive and we would spend much of the day queuing for everything from toilets to breakfast. Waiting for the shower could take over an hour because there were only four for 180 people.

Tensions were high and there would be sudden explosions of violence, with someone taking a bite out of someone else's ear. I saw a lot of fights in my first few days.

One of the first inmates I met was a menacing-looking man with short bleached-blond hair and thickly muscled arms bulging out of his Tshirt. He was built like the Incredible Hulk. When he started talking to me in Spanish I felt a shiver of dread.

'Me no understand,' I said, trying to look as unthreatening as possible. 'I'm English.'

'Oh,' he said with a broad grin. 'I've been inside for two f*****g years and haven't spoken English for months. How are you doing, mate?'

It turned out he was from Moss Side in Manchester and his name was Jim. Apparently, he was a big drug dealer there, leading a life filled with guns and shoot-outs. He told me he was wanted for extradition too, for a double murder.

'Not just any old murder,' he confided. 'An execution. Wearing the old ballys (balaclavas) and taking them out into the woods, getting them on their knees with guns at the back of their heads, screaming for their lives as I popped two caps in their heads.

'But don't worry, mate. I won't let anyone hurt you in here. You're with me.'

This turned out to be a very mixed blessing. Jim may have stopped anyone else from attacking me, but that didn't stop him doing it himself.

When he found out I had two £50 notes hidden in my jacket - a lifeline I'd been saving for when times got really hard - he pinned me up against the wall and threatened to knock my teeth out if I didn't hand them over. I held my nerve but it was a terrifying moment.

Finally, the 30th day arrived. The Moroccans had failed to send the extradition papers, so I allowed myself to imagine being back home with Jane and Badger, my dog.

But at the last minute the Moroccans phoned and persuaded a Spanish judge to give them another 40 days to prepare their paperwork.

Jane's response was to recruit Stephen Jakobi to our cause. Stephen runs the charity Fair Trials Abroad. He already had 360 cases of innocent Brits in foreign jails on his books, but he lobbied 12 MEPs and went to Morocco to meet the British Ambassador and the Moroccan Minister of Justice.

Jane and my sister Catherine accumulated a mountain of compelling evidence that I was innocent. But, bizarrely, they couldn't persuade the Ministry of Defence to give us a receipt for the boat to show it had been a legitimate deal.

It seemed the British Government would not admit to having sold a warship to the world's biggest drugs traffickers. Even more puzzling was that British Interpol denied ever talking to me.

Anyway, all our evidence was wasted in the numerous Spanish appeal hearings I went to because the judges refused to read it. The Moroccans had the deadline for the serving of extradition papers extended again and again.

The months in Valdemoro dragged by. On one precious day, Jane took time off from campaigning for my release and flew to Spain to make a so- called 'conjugal visit'.

We would have a few hours alone in a small private room with a bed. I was so nervous: would we still be able to connect? How would she react to the way I was looking - and smelling?

She was just as beautiful as I remembered. But her expression wasn't the one I had hoped to see.

'Bad news, Johnny,' she said. 'The paperwork has come through from Morocco. They've decided to go ahead with the extradition.'

My spirits plummeted and we both wept. Once I had recovered from the shock we talked for a while, and then made love. We were both eager for the human contact and warmth as much as the sex, but it still wasn't a happy time for either of us.

I had been warned that nobody was ever acquitted in a Moroccan drugs trial. Pleading innocent would be seen as an insult to the court and would get me a longer sentence. I might not be out for 30 years.

Would Jane wait for me? Would I even survive? We stared into each other's eyes, knowing it could be for the last time.

The paperwork for my extradition, which had taken the Moroccans four months to prepare, was just a single sheet. There was one paragraph that made my blood run cold. 'The ship had as its assignment the transport of six tonnes of cocaine. The ship was under the command of an English crew.'

Some fool had confused my crew with the Colombians who were caught with the cocaine ten weeks later - even though they were already in Moroccan jails!

Jane carried on fighting, even though many people we knew were beginning to think I must be guilty - 'no smoke without fire'. Men even tried to seduce her by telling her she was wasting her time with me.

But she never gave up, and found me the best possible lawyer, Jason McCue. He was known as a hotshot and, as the husband of journalist and broadcaster Mariella Frostrup, was a friend of stars like George Clooney and Brad Pitt.

He came to see me and bowled into the prison like a breath of fresh air. 'I can get you out of this,' he said, 'but it will cost you.'

'Whatever it takes, mate,' I said.

'But what happens when my savings run out?'

'John,' he said, 'I will stick with you to the end, even if I have to do this in my own free time.'

The next day, two Moroccan policemen drove me to the airport. They were surprisingly casual and at one point left me alone and uncuffed in the car, with the engine running.

For a few seconds I contemplated driving off, imagining Jason coming charging over the horizon with Brad Pitt and George Clooney to spring me loose. But I knew I'd only get caught and end up in even more trouble. It was hopeless.

I was flown to Casablanca and driven to Kenitra prison. Jane had been told it was the worst in Morocco. What hope did I have in a Muslim jail at a time when the West was imprisoning many Muslim citizens around the world without trial?

As I was escorted into the prison I passed the man hanging from the bars by his handcuffs. There was always someone strung up as an example to the rest of us.

They would be stood on a stool and their wrists chained to the rails. The stool would then be kicked away and they would be left dangling, crucified and bleeding. If they looked like they were going to pass out, the guards would throw water over them.

I was thrown into a cramped cell containing 46 men. There were no windows or furniture. The lavatory consisted of a hole in the floor with a tap above it. All of us had to live, cook, eat, wash and sleep on the floor.

A newcomer would start in the centre of the cell and perhaps one day, if accepted by the others, make it to a wall. Only then would they have any support for their aching backs during the long hours of sitting.

At first I could see no space to sit. After what seemed like an age a man stepped out of the crowd and tried to communicate. 'You English?'

He was the boss of the cell, a big, fat, arrogant man, but I soon discovered that he and the other prisoners were ready to treat me gently. Word had got through about the allegations against me - so, no doubt, part of the reason was that they thought I had friends in the drug world who'd make dangerous enemies.

There was no space for me to lie down that first night so I slept on top of other men's legs, constantly distracted by relentless attacks from mosquitoes and the scurrying of the rats that ran riot around the cell.

The night was filled with the screams of prisoners having the soles of their feet beaten by the guards.

A pack of guard dogs was on the flat roof above and kept barking at every movement. When I managed to fall asleep I would wake to find a giant cockroach in my hair.

In the morning, the cell boss woke everyone and gave them their orders; some were told to cook, others to wash. There was no privacy, all our ablutions having to take place in front of our cell-mates.

Instead of toilet paper there was a bucket for us to wash ourselves afterwards, always using our left hands, so our right hands would be clean for eating. The stench of hot, sweaty bodies mingled with the aroma of food and faeces made it hard to breathe without gagging.

Forty-six pairs of eyes followed me everywhere, every moment, but without any hatred in them. This wasn't just down to fear about my supposed drug connections - I was astonished by the genuine kindness of my fellow inmates.

I can't believe that a Muslim who didn't speak English would receive anything like such a generous and respectful welcome in any prison in
Britain. At meal times, the food would be heaped onto big plates and everyone would share it, sitting on the floor on plastic mats.

Now and then there would be a delicacy, such as a goat's eye, which the boss would present to me. I swallowed the first one whole and it wasn't that bad. From then on I would bite into them, feeling them pop in my mouth before swallowing.

Everyone was very physical, often shaving one another very lovingly. They would pass the hours by grooming and picking at one another like a pack of monkeys, taking comfort from physical contact with a friend. They would often wash one another, completely unselfconsciously.

One heavily scarred man, called The Bull, offered to wash me, but I insisted I was OK. It was too big a culture leap from the very British way in which I had been brought up. Even the guards would walk around arm in arm.

One night, as I was drifting in and out of sleep, I had a dream in which a friend of mine proved to me the power of positive thinking. If I willed something to happen, it actually did happen.

Coming back to consciousness I was blearily aware that the dogs were barking again on the roof. Concentrating my mind, I willed them to stop, knowing that once they started they usually went on for hours.

To my amazement they suddenly fell silent. As I drifted back to sleep I kept repeating to myself: 'Jason will get me out. Jason will get me out.' I wondered how long I would stay sane.

A year after I was arrested in Spain, and around a month after arriving in Morocco, the day of my pre-trial hearing finally arrived. In the few phone calls I had managed to get through to England, Jane and my sister Catherine had told me that Jason believed I would be released that day.

The courtroom settled down and the case began. Jason wasn't allowed to speak because English lawyers aren't allowed to practise in Morocco.

Jane had hired me an English-speaking local lawyer, Ben, who had a huge pile of papers in front of him which had been carefully prepared by her, Catherine and Jason.

Ben had been briefed over and over again on what to say, but as everyone else kept talking he remained silent, with his head down. I kept nudging him to say something in my defence but he told me this wasn't the right moment.

The judge asked me questions in Arabic which had to be laboriously interpreted and recorded. It took three and a half hours to ask me five questions. And then the hearing was over: Ben had said nothing.

Jason was clearly shocked. He had been so confident that the judge would listen to reason that he had even booked my flight home. I went back to jail and two weeks later the judge decided to send me for trial. A long sentence now seemed certain.

Jason was still determined to fight and decided to employ a secret weapon - support from his celebrity friends. He had already spoken to Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits, who was offering to lend his name to my campaign.

Annie Lennox had suggested writing a song about me and the artist Damien Hirst had offered to sell a painting to raise funds.

Justin thought he could also get on board Hugh Grant, film director Richard Curtis, the author Nick Hornby and actors Gina Bellman, Keely Hawes and Joseph Fiennes.

I was certainly impressed by my lawyer's contacts, and the kindness of all those involved, but I didn't hold out much hope. If the Moroccans wouldn't listen to reasoned arguments from lawyers and politicians, what hope was there that they would respond to a bunch of actors, singers and writers?

I was now convinced I would never see my mother alive again and I didn't dare hope that Jane would wait for me. Her support over the previous year had been incredible, but she had a life to live.

What I hadn't reckoned on was the George Clooney factor. He had recently been to Morocco to film the thriller Syriana and agreed to write a personal letter to the king.

He told the king how much he had enjoyed being in his beautiful country and hoped that he would be able to come back and film again. He then respectfully mentioned that he was taking an interest in my case because he was a personal friend of my lawyer.

That George Clooney would be willing to take the time and trouble to plead my case so diplomatically touched me. He might not have turned up on the tarmac of the airport to rescue me with Brad Pitt, as I had fantasised, but he had done the next best thing. It still didn't seem possible that a letter from an actor would sway a king. But could it?

On November 11, 2005, the king appeared on television to announce who was going to be pardoned to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Morocco's independence. I knew Jason had submitted a request for me to be one of them.

The whole jail was on tenterhooks as the details of the pardons emerged. If you had one year left to serve of a ten-year sentence, or six months of a five-year sentence, you would be allowed out.

All the men who fell in those categories erupted in cheers, jubilantly throwing things around their cells. The noise was deafening - they all believed that Allah had answered their prayers.

But not me. I hadn't even been tried yet, let alone sentenced. Pretty obviously, I was out of luck.

The following morning I was woken by a kick in the ribs from one of the guards. 'Hurry, hurry, hurry,' he ordered impatiently. 'Pack up stuff!' Assuming I was being moved to another jail, I wearily did as I was told.

But then something strange happened-Instead of a jail, I was driven-to a police station. Then into the room walked Anne-Marie, an official from the British Embassy who had brought me food and toiletries on several occasions.

'It's over,' she smiled. 'Don't worry, John. You've been pardoned.'

I threw my arms around her, hugging her tightly, tears welling up in my eyes. I felt my knees wobbling and knew I was in danger of collapsing from a mixture of grief and shock.

'Mr Packwood will be leaving the country today,' Anne-Marie told the police chief.

She led me to a waiting car, which sped us away to the embassy. 'Hello, John, old chap,' the British Ambassador greeted me as I was ushered into his office. 'Fancy a cup of tea?'

All it had taken was a word from the king and all the problems and obstacles that had proved so impossible to overcome had just melted away.

MPs, MEPs, ambassadors, lawyers and the media had all tried for a year to exert their influence on my behalf and none of them had got anywhere - but one letter from a Hollywood film star to a king and everything had changed.

The next morning, the embassy chauffeur drove me to Casablanca airport. My first sight of England was from the plane flying over the Isle of Wight. All I wanted to do was parachute straight down.

My mother, my sister, Jane and Jason were there to hug me at Heathrow. The next thing I knew we were at a press conference. Someone asked how the experience had changed me.

'A year of my life has been taken,' I said. 'I've spent all my savings. But at least my mother's alive, my dog needs a walk and my girl's not run off with the milkman.'

It was a magical moment - and despite everything I'd been through, I didn't want to spoil it with bitterness.

Last edited by Nicky80 on Thu 07 Aug 2014, 19:15; edited 1 time in total (Reason for editing : added text and pics)

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Post by LizzyNY Thu 07 Aug 2014, 15:58

Wow! What an amazing story. I can't imagine living through something so horrific. Thank God he was freed - and thank George, too. Who knew he had so much clout? And isn't it just typical of him to try to help. Very Happy 
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Post by it's me Thu 07 Aug 2014, 16:01

George Clooney can be proud

and we about him  sunny 
it's me
it's me
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Post by Joanna Thu 07 Aug 2014, 16:40

Oh that poor man....I hope he's survived well mentally from that dreadful ordeal and that he got a good book deal from the publishers too.
His story would make a good film, but there'd be lots of opposition to it from certain areas I'd imagine.

Yes we can feel proud of the part that George
played in it.   Coolio
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Post by Joanna Thu 07 Aug 2014, 16:44

Entry from Fair Trials web site

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John Packwood - Morocco

"The whole thing with prison is, especially in a foreign country, the communication and the lack of communication. I really didn't know what was going on, how things were progressing"
- John Packwood

John Packwood, a British marine engineer from the Isle of Wight, was arrested in Malaga on October 15, 2004 on suspicion of drug smuggling. He had been part of a crew responsible for delivering a boat from Southampton to Morocco in April 1997 after it was sold by a reputable brokerage firm. He responded to a call for crew and was hired as the ship’s engineer. On crossing the Bay of Biscay, they ran into storms and had to be towed into port in Agadir.
Agadir was not the planned port of arrival and the boat was thoroughly searched by 20 officials. The following day, John and the rest of the crew were paid and given plane tickets home. Three months later, the boat (manned by a completely unrelated crew) was stopped in connection with a large cargo of cocaine, after a Colombian drugs cartel dumped almost six tonnes of the drug over the side of the vessel.
Interpol subsequently investigated all those with a connection to the boat, but John was questioned and apparently cleared of any involvement.

In October 2004 John travelled to Spain in order to help a friend move house but was arrested under a Moroccan Arrest Warrant held by Interpol.
He spent months in Valdemoro prison, unsure of whether or indeed what charges were to be brought against him.
During his incarceration in Spain Fair Trials International campaigned against his extradition to Morocco while a lawyer fought to get the Warrant withdrawn, however he was extradited to Morocco in October 2005.
The next month John received a pardon and returned home to the UK, but still had an Arrest Warrant lodged against him. It was not until November 2008 that confirmation was finally received that the Warrant against John had been rescinded.

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Post by Atalante Fri 08 Aug 2014, 13:42

Message for Holly Wood, more hollow wood these days, make more relevant movies !!!  Laughing
Clooney-love. And they said it wouldn't last

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