May urged to explain Qatada delay
Home Secretary Theresa May is facing demands for an urgent statement to Parliament amid the "confusion" over the Government's latest bid to deport terrorist suspect Abu Qatada.
Lawyers for the radical cleric have lodged an appeal with Europe's human rights judges following his rearrest on Tuesday, effectively putting moves to return him to stand trial in his native Jordan on hold.
Mrs May dismissed it as a "delaying tactic" - insisting the deadline for an appeal passed on Monday - three months after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled he could be returned.
However, after the court refused to confirm that the Home Office had calculated the deadline correctly, shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said she must return to the Commons to explain what had happened.
"We need urgent clarification from the Home Secretary on whether she got the timing wrong," Ms Cooper said. "The Home Office are saying one thing, the European Court another. Why didn't they just agree the deadline in advance so there could be no opportunity for Abu Qatada or his lawyers to exploit?
"Everyone wants Abu Qatada deported and held in custody in the meantime, in line with the security assessment agreed by the Government and courts. But we don't want to see that jeopardised by confusion at the Home Office."
The Government insisted it had calculated the deadline date correctly and said its lawyers had written to the ECHR arguing the appeal should not be heard.
A Home Office spokesman said: "A letter was sent yesterday arguing the case should not be referred to the Grand Chamber of the court because the deadline of appeal had elapsed." Officials in Strasbourg are yet to respond to the letter.
A miscalculation of the deadline would be a massive embarrassment for Mrs May and could again set back the authorities' long-running battle to put Qatada on a plane out of the country. In a round of media interviews on Wednesday, Mrs May was adamant that the time for an appeal ran out at midnight on Monday.
"This is a delaying tactic from Abu Qatada," she said. "As you would expect, we have been in touch with the European court over the last three months to check our understanding. They were absolutely clear that we were operating on the basis that it was midnight on April 16."