Ministers block extradition of Kriss Donald murder suspects

THE government is blocking moves by detectives to have three suspects arrested in Pakistan and returned to face justice in Scotland over the abduction, torture and murder of schoolboy Kriss Donald.

The Scotsman has learned that requests for help by Strathclyde Police to the offices of Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and David Blunkett, his counterpart at the Home Office, were rejected despite the murder leading to serious racial tensions on the streets of Glasgow.

The three British-born suspects are believed to be in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-biggest city, but police officers are unable to travel to Pakistan without diplomatic permission.

A direct approach for help from Pakistan was ruled out by Whitehall mandarins because it was feared it could jeopardise negotiations to secure a permanent extradition treaty between the two countries.

But the tensions between Whitehall and Strathclyde Police have led to the intervention of Scotland's Lord Advocate, Colin Boyd, who, The Scotsman understands, has effectively by-passed the government to make a direct representation to the Pakistani High Commission to request the arrest and extradition of the suspects.

The body of 15-year-old Kriss Donald was found on 15 March on a walkway in the east end of Glasgow.

He had been bundled into a car the day before by five Asian men near his home in McCulloch Street, Pollokshields, on the city's south side, and later tortured and murdered.

In the aftermath, police officers were forced to calm racial tensions.

Two men, Daanish Zahid and Zahid Mohammed, both 20, have already appeared in court charged with the murder of the teenager, but Imran Shahid, 27, and another two as yet un-named suspects left for Pakistan immediately after the killing.

Although warrants have been issued for the capture of the men, because there is no formal extradition agreement between Britain and Pakistan the only course of action available to Strathclyde Police and the Crown Office since the suspects fled the country has been to use diplomatic channels and political pressure.

British diplomats are currently engaged in delicate negotiations to establish a formal arrangement with officials in Pakistan to establish a bilateral extradition treaty that would enable the UK to extradite suspected terrorists to face trial in Britain.

The talks have coincided with Pakistani moves to forge new alliances with the west, led by President Pervez Musharraf, who has publicly backed the United States’ and Britain’s campaign against terrorism in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

A Whitehall source said that the timing of any approach by Strathclyde Police to Pakistan for a special extradition request was felt to be potentially disruptive in terms of long-term negotiations. He said: "The negotiations to establish a permanent extradition treaty with Pakistan are at a very important stage and the Home Office and the Foreign Office weren’t exactly warming to proposals to approach the Pakistani High Commission and request the special extradition of three murder suspects.

"There was a great deal of concern that it would have muddied the waters."

Strathclyde Police have raised concerns that, apart from the risk of the suspects disappearing altogether, the lack of progress in the case as a direct result of Whitehall interference could mean the trial of the suspects might have to be split into two. This would create huge legal difficulties for the prosecution.

At present, it also looks likely that the trial of the two men currently in custody could exceed the 110-day rule, after which time they are eligible to be released on bail.

Revealing that the Lord Advocate had taken a personal interest in the case, a Crown Office source said: "There have been a number of delays in actually establishing the extradition requests and this has largely been down to red tape surrounding the application itself."

"In recent months there has been a degree of concern among senior diplomats that any formal requests could jeopardise existing negotiations to establish a permanent extradition treaty.

"There are also issues regarding the fact that foreign office policy is essentially a reserved issue for Westminster and not the Executive.

"In the past week, concerns over the delay were presented to the Crown Office by Strathclyde Police, and we have now stepped in to make this request to the Pakistani High Commission ourselves."

Strathclyde Police refused to comment, but a source said: "We have encountered serious problems with our attempts to seek extradition for these suspects and it has caused a great deal of frustration among the officers involved in the case.

"While we would expect red tape in a matter like this, we haven’t exactly been bowled over by the assistance offered to us by the foreign office."

A Donald family friend said that Kriss’s mother, Angela, was desperate for the suspects to be extradited and for a trial to go ahead, not just for the sake of the schoolboy’s family, but for the community.

He said: "The Asian community are as desperate as the family to see justice done and it is appalling to think these suspects may never be extradited back to the UK to face a jury. It is beyond belief that diplomats can effectively get in the way of a murder inquiry and prolong a family’s grief like this."