POLITICS
17/04/2012 12:25 BST

Abu Qatada's Deportation Could Take 'Many More Months', Says Home Secretary Theresa May

The home secretary Theresa May has warned it could be "many more months" before Abu Qatada is deported from Britain, despite his arrest earlier on Tuesday and the resumption of deportation proceedings against him to Jordan.

Theresa May announced Qatada's arrest to cheers from Tory MPs in the Commons, insisting: "The assurances and information that the government has secured from Jordan mean we can undertake deportation in full compliance with the law.

"For more than ten years successive governments have sought to deport Qatada to Jordan. He has been linked to several terrorist plots," she said, adding that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had delayed his deportation "on unprecedented grounds".

The ECHR had ruled that deportation was unlawful because his trial in Jordan would have potentially relied on evidence of people who had been tortured.

"The government disagrees vehemently win this ruling," May told MPs. "He does not belong in Britain, he belongs in Jordan, where he deserves to face justice."

However Theresa May insisted that they could not "simply put Qatada on a plane" in violation of the ECHR's ruling, because it would mean that government lawyers and officials would be breaking the law, as would others including airline officials and pilots.

The home secretary said she had recieved assurances from the Jordanian authorities which would allay the ECHR's concerns, including pledges that Qatada's case will be heard in public with civilian judges in Jordan, and that his previous conviction for terrorist offences - determined in his absence - would be quashed immediately and a retrial would take place.

May acknowledged: "This does not necessarily mean that he will be on a plane within days," telling MPs that Qatada would probably appeal to the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) - a process which could still take many months.

"I believe the assurances and the information we have gathered mean that we can get him out of the country for good," said May.

Responding for Labour, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the measures taken by the government had been "cobbled together in a rush," saying it was wrong that the home secretary's statement on Qatada was taking place at the same time as his appearance before SIAC.

"We are debating this without knowing what the courts will decide this afternoon," she told the Commons, claiming that delays by the Home Office in January and February had led to Qatada being released on bail in the first place.