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News (Media Awareness Project) - UK: Drug Smuggler Pardoned After 20 Years In Jail
Title:UK: Drug Smuggler Pardoned After 20 Years In Jail
Published On:2011-12-26
Source:Yorkshire Post (UK)
Fetched On:2011-12-27 06:01:24

CAMPAIGNERS described a decision by the president of the Philippines
to pardon a drug smuggler from Yorkshire as "the best Christmas
present ever" after he has been languishing in squalid conditions
while in jail for nearly two decades.

It emerged yesterday that President Benigno Aquino III had granted
Thalidomide victim William "Billy" Burton, 48, who is originally from
Wetherby in West Yorkshire, the pardon from the life sentence on the
grounds of his deteriorating health.

The revelation came 19 years to the day since Burton was arrested at
Manila Airport trying to smuggle 12lbs of marijuana out of the
country. He had faced the prospect of remaining in jail until 2032,
when he will be 70.

He has been locked up in the maximum security New Bilibid prison, near
the capital of Manila, as his health has deteriorated and concerns
have been expressed about the conditions he has been living in while

Fellow Thalidomide victim, Guy Tweedy, from Harrogate, launched a
campaign in March last year to free the former Wetherby High School

A spokesman for the Free Billy Burton campaign group described
yesterday's announcement as "the best Christmas present ever" and paid
tribute to Mr Tweedy as "an outstanding man of compassion and
determination" for his efforts.

Mr Tweedy said: "While no-one would condone what Billy has done, he
has served his time in prison and his health is deteriorating. He has
muscular-skeletal problems, as well as issues with his eyesight and
hearing often associated with being a Thalidomide sufferer. I am
overjoyed with the news, and this is certainly one Christmas present
that I am so glad to have received."

Foreign Office Minister Jeremy Browne, who has supported Burton's bid
for freedom given the "compelling, compassionate circumstances" of the
case, also welcomed the decision to grant clemency.

Mr Browne, who discussed the case with the Philippine government
during a recent visit, added: "I know that this news will be warmly
welcomed by Billy's family and his supporters at the Thalidomide Trust
who have campaigned tirelessly on Billy's behalf."

Burton, who was born with shortened arms and twisted hands, was 29
when he got into financial difficulties while travelling the world. He
attempted to smuggle drugs out of the Philippines but was arrested at
Manila airport on December 26, 1992, as he tried to board a flight to

He was given a 30-year life term and initially told he would be
considered for parole after eight years. But a subsequent change in
drugs laws in the Philippines meant he became ineligible for parole
and his sentence was increased to 40 years, with a release date of

The Conservative MP for Elmet and Rothwell, Alec Shelbrooke, issued a
plea in July to the British Embassy in the Philippines to do more to
secure Burton's release. The campaign scored a significant success in
October after Burton was recommended for release by the Filipino
Department of Justice.

In a letter sent to the UK last year, Burton said: "For my disrespect,
lack of decency and failure to uphold moral standards when I committed
a crime 18 years ago, I have only regrets. There are no excuses. I do
not think, however, that only bad people do bad things -- sometimes
good people also do bad things."

At a press briefing yesterday, presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte
confirmed Burton must pay a 20,000 pesos (UKP294) fine to a metropolitan
Manila court. The other conditions of his release are that he pays his
airfare home and never returns to the Philippines.

It is understood Burton will be transferred to a holding centre in the
next few weeks before he is deported back to the UK.
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