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Bailed Greek prison Scot Conor Howard regrets buying joke gift


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Bailed Greek prison Scot Conor Howard regrets buying joke gift

Publishedduration1 hour agoimage captionConor Howard has been released from jail in Corfu but faces court again in NovemberA Scottish engineer who faces a year in a Qatari jail over a drugs charge has been released on bail in Greece.Conor Howard says he regrets buying a joke gift for a friend after it led him to…

Bailed Greek prison Scot Conor Howard regrets buying joke gift

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image captionConor Howard has been released from jail in Corfu but faces court again in November

A Scottish engineer who faces a year in a Qatari jail over a drugs charge has been released on bail in Greece.

Conor Howard says he regrets buying a joke gift for a friend after it led him to be arrested in Qatar and then jailed in Greece nearly a year later.

His problems began when a herb grinder was found in his luggage during an expected stopover in Qatar in October.

He was unaware he was later convicted in his absence, and an international arrest warrant issued.

The 27-year-old discovered he was a wanted man when he was detained at the airport in Corfu in August on his way to visit his parents at their holiday home.

After spending nearly a month in a Greek jail, Mr Howard, from Tranent in East Lothian, was released on bail on Friday and reunited with his parents.

But he still faces extradition to Qatar and cannot travel back to Scotland.

Speaking to the BBC from Corfu, he said his purchase of a joke gift before returning home from Australia had spiralled out of all proportion.

A flight delay meant his flight landed late in the Middle Eastern country and he had missed his connecting flight.

image copyrightDetained in Dubai

image captionThe 27-year-old was travelling home from a year working in Australia when he was arrested in Qatar

He said: “I was never planning on being in Qatar. I understand it has strict laws. I never thought a piece of metal would be part of that.

“Obviously I regret doing it now I know the circumstances. I do regret it, yes. If I knew what was going to happen I would never have done it.”

He described the events that unfolded in Qatar as life changing.

“It was going to be a one-hour thing. Then there was a delay and I had to actually enter the country. I had forgotten about it until I went through security and they pulled it out of the bag. I didn’t think I would be in serious trouble.”

Drugs test

He was detained and taken to a police station where he thought he would sign a piece of paper and hand the herb grinder over. But when he got to the police station he said he was again questioned.

He said: “I felt like they were trying to interrogate me a bit and say that I was going to take drugs in their country. Obviously I wasn’t.

“They started to take my picture and the guy said you’ll need to go to court and that’s when it really hit me the severity of the situation. It was frightening”

After being taken to court there, he was drugs tested and had to wait 12 hours until he was allowed to continue his journey home.

image captionConor Howard still faces a year in a Qatari jail despite being granted bail

After the experience, he vowed he would never let himself get into a situation like that again.

But 10 months later, he boarded a flight to meet his mother and step-father in Corfu, and another phase of his ordeal began.

He said: “First they said my passport hadn’t scanned properly so they asked me to wait at the side. I had to wait for half an hour to speak to someone and then they said there was an international warrant out for my arrest.

“My heart just sunk. I though all this was over.”

He was kept in a Greek prison for more than three weeks before his hearing on Thursday.

He was made to quarantine for two weeks and then shared a cell with a number of other men.

He said it was a high pressure atmosphere and he could not relax the entire time.

image copyrightDetained in Dubai

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image captionConor Howard was on his way to visit his step father and mother when he was arrested in Greece

He must now stay in Greece until 4 November when he is due back in court.

He said: “I am feeling positive after getting bail and getting released from prison.

“I am so grateful to all the people who have helped and I just want to relax and see my family and girlfriend and not be stuck between four walls.”

‘Extradition abuse’

Radha Stirling, of campaign group Detained in Dubai, represents the family and believes Mr Howard should never have been jailed in the first place.

She said: “At the whim of a country notorious for Interpol and extradition abuse, a European country has been used as a conduit to unfairly detain a British national.

“Qatar has been responsible for a number of arrests and detentions inside the EU over the past 24 months. In none of these cases were the victims extradited and in all cases I have dealt with, the victims were released and removed from Interpol’s database.”

She said that Greece has allowed Qatar until 4 November to present further evidence, meaning Mr Howard is not allowed to return to Scotland and still risks being extradited.

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