The Home Office "checked repeatedly" with Europe's human rights court about when the deadline for any appeal over terror suspect Abu Qatada's deportation could be made, David Cameron said today.
The Prime Minister denied making a "complete mess" of getting Qatada out of the country, saying the Home Office was "very clear" about the date, had checked with the court and considered the precedents.
Home Secretary Theresa May has insisted that the appeal by the radical cleric's lawyers should be thrown out because it missed a three-month deadline, but advice from the research department of the Council of Europe - which is responsible for the court - suggests otherwise.
The confusion could lead to Qatada being back on British streets in just two or three weeks.
Justice Mitting, president of the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (Siac), returned Qatada to jail after his arrest last week.
But he warned: "If it is obvious after two or three weeks have elapsed that deportation is not imminent... then I will reconsider bail along the basis of a more leisurely timetable than that necessarily required for a full-blown appeal to Siac."
Cameron told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The Home Office was very clear that it had the right date for the deadline expiring on the Monday evening (April 16).
"It had checked repeatedly throughout that process, it was working on that basis and all the case law pointed in that direction, so it was very clear and Theresa May has been very clear about this."
He added: "The Home Office was working on the basis of the deadline being the Monday night and that is something that they had checked with the court.
"The Home Office was clear about the date, the precedents were checked, and so they acted in my view entirely correctly.
"The Home Office had checked the precedents, was working on the assumption the date was the Monday night. They acted entirely correctly. They wanted to move swiftly to remove Abu Qatada and I think that was the right thing to do."
The highly-trumpeted re-arrest of Qatada last Tuesday ended in farce with a dispute between the Home Office and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over exactly when a month-long window for an appeal had closed.
Cameron denied the Government made a "complete mess" of trying to get Qatada, who has been fighting deportation for 10 years, out of the country.
"They were told throughout that the deadline expired on the Monday night," he said.
A panel of judges at the Strasbourg-based court will now decide whether the appeal, made at 11pm local time (10pm BST) last Tuesday, was in time or not.
If the deadline had expired, the judges have no discretion to allow the appeal to be considered by the court's Grand Chamber.
Qatada, 51, has also been receiving public money to fund his appeals to Siac, the Legal Services Commission (LSC), which runs the legal aid scheme in England and Wales, confirmed.
Last Thursday, Labour MP Ian Davidson asked the Home Secretary if the Government was "funding this man's interminable appeals by providing unlimited legal aid?"
May replied: "No, we have been very clear about the issue of the availability of finance for Abu Qatada, and I assure the honourable gentleman that some of the claims being made about the finances that are being made available to Abu Qatada are not correct."
Today, Davidson told The Sun: "It would appear that what the Home Secretary said was at the very least misleading.
"It seems crazy that we have one arm of government trying to boot this man out of the country, but another arm of government paying for his legal battle to stay here."Suggest a correction