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понедельник, 10 апреля 2017 г.

'My dream job landed me in jail'

Sunburn and insect bites aren’t the only things to worry about on holiday. British women are being increasingly targeted by traffickers who plant drugs in their luggage or in gifts. You didn’t know, so you won’t be in trouble, right? Wrong, as Terry Daniels, 36, discovered...

The day my little sister got married was one we'd planned out years before. She wore a gorgeous long, white, fitted gown and carried a stunning lily bouquet. She said her vows in front of her nearest and dearest at the tiny church in the village of Wingave, Bucks, where we'd grown up. There was just one person missing from Kelly's special day me.
Instead of being there, I was holed up in a filthy Spanish jail, serving a 10-year sentence for drug smuggling; ending my dream of living and working in Tenerife.
It sounds incredible, but the Spanish authorities convicted me on the basis of an innocent diary entry referring to an insurance claim I was expecting to receive. They thought it was money I was going to get from drug trafficking.
I spent the next 12 years fighting to clear my name. Even now, I feel appalled at my naivety.

Terry (left) missed her sister Kelly's wedding
I was sentenced along with nightclub owner, Antonio Benavides, then 42. He was a well-known businessman and had poached me from my old job doing PR for a nightclub in Tenerife after offering me better wages. Then he suggested I accompany him on a business trip to Brazil. He told me he'd bought two tickets, and at the last minute his wife had unexpected work commitments and couldn't go. We'd have separate rooms and he insisted it was above board. Not wanting to turn down a free holiday, I agreed. It was the worst decision I've ever made.
A week later, in June 1997, we jetted off. There wasn't much to do so I sunbathed by the pool every day while he went off for his 'business meetings'. I didn't suspect anything shady - I was just enjoying my break. A few days into our trip, Antonio showed up carrying two flashy new suitcases. Unknown to me, they were fitted with false bottoms and were filled with nearly 4kg of cocaine, then worth over £1million.
We flew back to Tenerife, changing flights at Gran Canaria. We were stopped at the airport and searched as part of routine checks. My case was clear, so I wasn't worried, but a few minutes later, two officers marched me into an airless interview room. On the table was Antonio's luggage. The base of one of the cases had been broken into and white powder was scattered all over the table. I froze. Drugs. Antonio kept telling them it was nothing to do with me. I was dragged off to another room. I'd never been in trouble before, so I didn't think to ask for a lawyer.

Terry's mum, Pat, has been a rock to her
I spent the night in the small, dingy room. The next morning; the guards hammered on the door and I was taken for questioning. With the help of a translator, I explained which suitcase was mine, why I was on holiday with Antonio and how I knew him. I kept repeating the drugs were nothing to do with me. Then I was told that we were being taken to court the next day. As they locked me in a cell in the local police station, I couldn't stop crying. I knew I was innocent but I was being treated like a criminal and I was scared.
I was charged with importation and possession with intent to supply, and my bail was posted at £3,000. In Spain, you have to pay it or stay in jail. There was only one person I knew would help me: Mum. I'd borrowed someone's phone card so I only had enough time to blurt: 'Mum, I'm in prison in Spain - I need money for bail,' between my sobs. She was shell-shocked, but said she'd sort it and fly out as soon as she could. Then I was cut off.
Five days later, my bail was paid and I was released, but ordered to stay in Spain. I went back to my apartment in Tenerife and my mum, Pat, flew out to be with me. In tears, I explained what had happened. Like me, Mum was convinced it was one big mistake on the part of the authorities.
Mum helped me hire a lawyer and he thought my case was clear cut. There was no evidence against me, so it was unlikely I'd go to prison. I'd simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It took 10 months for the case to be heard at court. Luckily, during that time I was able to waitress at a friend's restaurant. In court I was asked the same questions as when I'd first been arrested and didn't get to hear the evidence against me. It was tough keeping track of the proceedings.

Terry in Tenerife before her arrest
My Spanish was sketchy and I had no translator. My lawyer didn't even speak, and told me it was because they hadn't put up a case against me - I figured that was a good thing. Back at my apartment as I was preparing to go home, my lawyer called. The verdict was in. I'd been found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. Antonio pleaded guilty and received the same sentence. I couldn't believe it. I'd done nothing wrong - Antonio had told the judges that - yet I was looking at spending a decade of my life in a foreign jail.
It turned out that my conviction had been based on my diary, which the police had confiscated. In it I'd written: 'What am I going to do with all the money?' I was owed £4,500 compensation for a car accident. The authorities had interpreted it as money I was to receive from drug trafficking. But I was never given the chance to explain.
The solicitor told me that he'd appealed the decision and I had 'conditional liberty', meaning that I didn't have to stay in jail. The Spanish authorities held my passport, so I couldn't leave the country, but with a criminal record it wasn't easy to find work.
The Spanish prison

Back home, Mum contacted our local MP in the UK, John Bercow. He asked for the Government's support in getting me a pardon. In 2000, he got a response from the Spanish ambassador to say I'd been released 'without readmission', which everyone took to mean I could return to the UK. I managed to get a new passport, and booked a flight home.
Back home with Mum and Dad, the sense of relief was incredible. After three years of stress, I'd lost my confidence and didn't want to go out much. Then my dad was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus, and died in June 2001. It was an incredibly unhappy and difficult time. Determined to move forward, I found a flat and applied for a job as a carer. But to my shock, I was told that a background check found my conviction was 'outstanding'. I couldn't believe it, and got in touch with Fair Trials Abroad, who said they'd investigate. I was relieved and thought they'd sort out the mistake.
But two weeks later, three police officers from Scotland Yard arrived with an arrest warrant from Interpol, triggered by the background check. They explained that I was to be extradited to Spain to begin my sentence - I'd thought it was all over.

In prison June 2006
I was devastated. I had just two days to prepare. It was heartbreaking. Saying goodbye to Mum and my sister Kelly, and leaving my life and freedom for something I hadn't done, crushed me. On the flight to Spain, I was accompanied by six Interpol officers. I'm still not sure why they sent so many - it felt a bit like overkill. I was too stunned to even cry as they took me to a holding prison in Madrid, then transferred me to Topas prison in Salamanca, western Spain.
Within a week, I'd gone from living in my own flat to sharing a prison cell with a Dutch woman who'd also been jailed for importing drugs. I felt like I was stuck in a bad movie. My days dragged. I'd get up, eat a bread roll, then walk around the yard, have lunch, then write letters home. I mixed with the other prisoners when I had to, but tried to keep to myself.
Life in prison was volatile. It was a mixed jail, with men locked up for rape and women for prostitution and fraud. Fights were commonplace. I just tried to keep my head down. The days went by slowly; I'd read books and watch TV. My mum visited regularly but we could only speak through a telephone system with a pane of glass separating us. Friends and family sent regular letters, which helped. As the days turned to weeks and my sentence stretched out in front of me, despair took over. During my darkest hours I felt I'd rather not be alive than have to suffer this. Thoughts of my Mum and my family kept a flicker of fight alive inside me. I lived for the visits, letters and phone calls.
When I was forced to go back to Spain, I'd applied to serve my sentence in the UK. After 14 months, permission was finally granted. I was flown back to the UK, first to Holloway prison in north London, then to Cookham Wood in Kent and finally to an open prison, East Sutton Park. Conditions were better, my family could visit easily and at least everyone spoke English. I did some educational courses and hoped that one day I'd be free.
After 12 years of support from lawyers, MPs, the media and organisations like Prisoners Abroad and Fair Trials Abroad, I secured a partial pardon in December 2008, reducing my sentence to six years. On January 29, 2009, after serving three years and three months, I was allowed home. I ran to the phone and asked my mum to pick me up. She got there at 7pm and gave me a hug. We were both in tears - but so happy that I was free.

Terry is still fighting to clear her name
Adjusting to life on the outside has been tough. For the first few months, I was a nervous wreck. I couldn't leave my mum's side, and felt overwhelmed by the simplest things, like doing the grocery shopping. Friends were brilliant, spending time with me and being supportive. I've had counselling too. I'm not bitter, because I think that's a waste of time but sometimes I get upset about the life I've lost.
I'm single now, but would love a relationship one day. I'm not ready yet. I'm still fighting to clear my name and will be able to apply through the Spanish courts, 10 years after my release, in 2019. Until then I'm training to be a counsellor, so I can help others. I made one stupid decision that wrecked my life. If talking about my experience helps one person avoid going through what my family went through, I'll be happy.
Innocents abroad?

  • Last year, Prisoners Abroad supported 146 women held on drugs charges outside the UK, 51 per cent in South America and the Caribbean and 19 per cent in EU countries.
  • In July 2007, two 16-year-old schoolgirls from north London were found guilty of trying to smuggle cocaine from Ghana to the UK. Yasemin Vatansever and Yatunde Diya were arrested after they were found with laptop bags containing 6kg of cocaine. They claimed they didn't know about the drugs, but had been asked by two men to collect the bags for £3,000. They served one year in a correctional facility in Ghana and came back to the UK in July 2008.
  • Mum of four Laura Makin, 32, from Liverpool, went on holiday to Venezuela in March 2009 with her estranged husband, Paul. Unknown to her, he'd done a deal to smuggle drugs. At the airport, 24kg of cocaine, worth £1.2million, was discovered in his bag. Laura could face 10 years in jail, while Paul pleaded guilty and is serving eight years.

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