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Declarations & Statements


The Independent, 23.2.00

Pinochet must have new tests, Straw told. By Kim Sengupta

Four countries yesterday challenged the Home Secretary's plans to free General Pinochet after they were allowed to see the former Chilean dictator's medical reports.

Jack Straw was forced last week to hand over reports which had formed the basis of his announcement that he was "minded" to allow the General to go on health grounds.

Belgium, France, Spain and Switzerland delivered a combative and uncompromising response by yesterday's deadline for their submissions.

They told Mr Straw that they wanted fresh tests carried out on the General, who is wanted on charges of torture and human rights abuse.

Damien Vandeermeersch, a Belgian judge, said that the former dictator was fit to stand trial on the basis of the report he had already seen. Switzerland said bluntly that Mr Straw did not have power under European extradition proceedings to arbitrarily halt proceedings on health grounds.

In another development, the Home Secretary is being taken to the European Court of Human Rights over his handling of the case. The human rights group, Justicia, has lodged papers with the court claiming that Mr Straw has breached the European Convention on human rights by not consulting torture victims of the Pinochet regime over the issue of the medical report.

There has been criticism of the way in which the medical tests were carried out on the instructions of Mr Straw and Spanish and Belgian specialists have disputed parts of the conclusions. Amnesty International has also submitted reports to Mr Straw from eminent specialists in Britain criticising methods used in the tests.

Part of the concern, on the part of the medical consultants for Amnesty and the Spanish government, is believed to be about the assessments and conclusions of Dr Maria Wyke, a neuropsychologist.

Dr Robert Howard, a reader and consultant in old age psychiatry, at King's College, London University, said in an analysis passed on to Mr Straw by Amnesty: "The neuropsychological assessment carried out by Dr Wyke involved standard instruments ... she concluded that Senator Pinochet is 'functioning within the low/average range' on these tests.

"By definition 50 per cent of the population would function at this level, yet it would be difficult to imagine that all these people should be considered intellectually unfit to stand trial."

Dr Howard's views were backed by Dr Nori Graham, a consultant in old age psychiatry at the Royal Free Hospital, London, a Fellow of Royal College of Psychiatrists and the chairman of Alzheimer's Disease International.

Human rights groups have also questioned whether Dr Wyke was the right person to undertake the tests, pointing out that her last publication was was in 1992.

Six Spanish medical experts asked to analyse the medical report are said to have disputed parts of its conclusions.

In Brussels, a spokesman for the Belgian foreign office said: "Based on the medical reports, the judge considers Pinochet to be fit for trial. He is requesting further tests."

In Paris, the French justice ministry said yesterday that the investigative judge Roger Le Loire has appointed a neuropsychiatrist, a geriatric psychiatrist and a neuro-psychiatrist to carry out fresh tests, if they are allowed.

In Switzerland, Folco Galli, a spokesman for the Federal Police, said that representations made to Mr Straw said: "We say that following the European extradition convention, you cannot refuse an extradition because of health reasons. We believe that the extradition procedure should go on."

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