Revealed: Charles' vital role in release of Britons from Saudi jail

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PRINCE Charles played a central role in securing the release of six Britons who claim they were falsely imprisoned and tortured in Saudi Arabia for bombings they did not commit.

St James’s Palace confirmed that the Prince of Wales had used his extensive contacts at the highest level of the Saudi government to campaign for clemency on behalf of the men, including Scot Sandy Mitchell, who returned to Britain after their surprise release on Friday.

The Prince’s repeated demands to senior Saudi officials proved crucial in winning freedom for the men, two of whom had been facing the death penalty after they were accused of involvement in a wave of bombings across the kingdom.

The revelation of the Prince’s secret role partially explains the Saudi’s shock decision to free the men after two years of fruitless negotiations conducted by the British government.

A senior Foreign Office source told Scotland on Sunday last night that the government had almost given up hope of securing an early release for the men - and accused the Saudi’s of breaking their "word of honour" that they would be set free months ago.

A Palace spokesman said last night: "The prince has excellent connections within Saudi Arabia. He has been keen that the case should be re-looked at by the Saudi authorities."

He confirmed that Prince Charles had maintained regular contact with the Saudis over the jailed men.

The royal intervention was welcomed by the families of the men. Mary Martini, former wife of one of the freed Britons, James Cottle, said: "I know he cannot get involved politically, but the Saudis love our Royal Family and his involvement will have helped tremendously."

The move came amid claims of an extraordinary pact offered by the Saudi authorities in return for the men’s release. Relatives claimed the Saudis asked the men to sign a document implicating themselves in the bombings in return for their freedom - an offer which they turned down.

While UK intelligence agencies believe the bombs were planted by Islamic extremists, the Saudi authorities claimed they were part of an alcohol-related "turf war" among westerners living in the kingdom.

Prince Charles has been criticised in the past for maintaining close connections with the controversial Saudi regime. He has a long-standing relationship with the House of Saud, and his popularity in the kingdom was enhanced by a 1993 lecture in the desert, when he declared the materialistic West had much to learn from the more spiritual Islamic world.

But he is understood to have capitalised upon his connections with the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Prince Turki al-Faisal, a controversial figure who ran the Saudi intelligence service for almost a quarter of a century to score a notable public-relations victory.

Mitchell said yesterday: "I would just like to thank everyone for their support and best wishes. I truly appreciate it. I just need some time now to spend with my family."

Last night, his American lawyer claimed Mitchell had converted to Islam and wants to return to the Muslim kingdom on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Michael O’Kane said his client had become a Muslim and wanted to return to the country where he had faced public beheading. But friends appeared to contradict the claim last night, telling how Mitchell was sitting enjoying a beer.