The Telegraph on October 21, 2012 released the following:
“By Philip Sherwell
As he strolled off the fairway with his scorecard at the 18th hole, the white-haired man in blue polo shirt and khaki shorts could have been just another relaxed late-afternoon golfer.
But a closer look revealed two pieces of extra “kit” not needed by his playing partners at the country club in the affluent leafy suburbia north of Houston.
Inside the white sock on his left foot was the bulge of an ankle bracelet, while a satellite GPS tracking device blinked in a holster on his belt.
For this was Christopher Tappin, the retired British businessman, former president of the Kent Golf Union and epitome of Home Counties respectability who will go on trial in two weeks [NOV 5] in a Texas courtroom charged with conspiring to supply batteries for Iranian missiles.
His case made headlines as he fought extradition from Britain for five years, under the lopsided treaty passed by the Labour government after the Sept 2001 terror attacks.
This requires evidence of “probable cause” before an American is extradited to Britain, a far higher standard of proof than the “reasonable suspicion” that suffices to send a Briton to trial in the US.
Mr Tappin, 65, who has consistently denied the charges, eventually lost that battle in February and was handed over to the US authorities. The next two months were spent in the hellish conditions of a federal prison in New Mexico, much of the time in solitary confinement.
In April, he was released under strict bail conditions – including wearing the ankle bracelet and GPS tracker to ensure that he does not leave the three Texas counties where he is allowed out before his overnight curfew.
And last week, he spoke for the first time about his life since then in a wide-ranging interview with The Sunday Telegraph.
As he finished the 18 holes in a brisk round of 75, the 65-year-old grandfather looked as calm as the new friends he has made among the businessmen and lawyers at the club.
There was no indication of the inner turmoil that he must feel as he prepares to face an agonising dilemma next month in a federal courtroom in El Paso.
If he pleads not guilty and loses in a country with one of the world’s highest conviction rates, then he could be jailed for up to 35 years in the US – effectively a life sentence away from his sick wife, two children and grandson.
But in a common US legal move, prosecutors are expected to offer him a plea bargain that would give him a much shorter prison term and to probably repatriation to a British jail – provided he admits at least some of the charges.
Mr Tappin, from Orpington, owned a freight shipping company and is accused of trying to buy 50 oxide batteries to power Iranian Hawk missiles after a colleague made contact with a front company set up by the Department of Homeland Security.
He has, however, always insisted he was the unwitting victim of an FBI sting operation and believed the batteries were for commercial use in the Netherlands.
For Mr Tappin, the rounds of his beloved golf that he plays most days are a solace and escape. “Without the golf, I’d go raving mad,” he said. “It keeps me from thinking too much about the case, but it’s tough, it’s very tough.”
His failed battle against extradition was one among a series involving Britons accused in the US of alleged crimes that took place on UK soil.
Last week, he heard some bittersweet news about the most high-profile of all such cases during his daily telephone call from his wife his wife Elaine, who is in Britain and unable to visit him because she suffers Churg-Strauss syndrome, a severe allergic condition that endangers the body’s vital organs.
She told him that Theresa May, the Home Secretary, had ruled that the Briton, Gary McKinnon, accused of hacking into US military computers and causing 300 of them to crash, would not be handed to the US authorities for trial. Her last-minute decision to block his extradition frustrated US officials, who said publicly that they were “disappointed” but were privately furious.
Mrs May took the decision on medical grounds – Mr McKinnon suffers from Asperger’s, a form of autism and his family had argued that he would not survive life inside an US jail, even awaiting trial.
But she also announced plans to introduce a so-called “forum bar” under which judges would decide whether alleged offences should be tried in Britain rather than in the US. If such a law had already been in place, Mr Tappin might have been tried in Britain rather than in America – and as key evidence was collected from a sting operation, the case could have been thrown out before reaching court.
“I’m delighted for Gary and his mother Janis,” he said. “I’ve met them several times and this is great news.
“Gary would never have survived the prison they slung me into, not in his condition. It was the psychotic screaming throughout the night that got me. And the head-banging. And God help him if he’d had to go through solitary like I did, with the lights on 24 hours and the only human contact when they give you a meal three times a day. He couldn’t have coped.
“I desperately hope this presages a change to the system. Something has to be done with that treaty and we’ve been advocating for a ‘forum bar’ for a long time. It’s got to be changed.
“I hope I am the final Brit to be extradited under this treaty as it stands. My case should never be being tried here in the US, I was living in the UK when these alleged offences took place, the crimes were allegedly committed in Britain and the evidence against me comes from the UK, so why am I not being tried in the UK?”
As Mr Tappin awaits that trial, he is trapped in a “gilded cage” existence, and one that is eating up the money he made running his freight business.
After his release on bail, he initially lived at his lawyer’s $2 million home in an upmarket neighbourhood that is built around a Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course and protected by private guards and security barriers.
He is now renting his own one-bedroom apartment in a nearby gated community in the wealthy suburban belt north of Houston called Woodlands. “There’s a gym and a swimming pool that I use and I try and keep myself physically fit, though mentally is a whole different challenge,” he said.
“It a very nice area with some lovely people, but you pay a heavy price for life in a paradise,” he noted wrily. “I miss my family and friends and home deeply. Life is boring, to be honest. Each day is deja deja deja déjà vu.”
He is not allowed access to email or the internet under the terms of his bail, but talks each day with his wife and friends and also spends several hours writing and answering letters in longhand.
And he does of course have his golf, playing with his own clubs after they were brought out on a visit by his son Neil, the deputy editor of Golf Monthly magazine. “I’m playing well and happy to get my game back after his two months in jail,” he said. “But these are hardly the circumstances in which I’d want to sharpen my game.”
Pointing to his ankle bracelet and GPS device he added: “And of course, I have to wear these things. It’s not comfortable, but you get used to it. The court charges me a $9 fee a day for the honour of wearing them.”
He has to be home each night from 10pm to 6am under a curfew, and most evenings he cooks for himself. So one big plus, he said, was the discovery of Goodwood’s British Market, a nearby store that specialises in foods from Britain. “They’ve got it all, bangers, fish and chips, Heinz baked beans, HP sauce, Robinson marmalade and the like,” he said.
But he is lonely and desperately pines for home. “It’s nice to hear an English accent,” he said during the interview. “At least the heat of summer has relented. This is the only place where I know where they have to chill the outdoor pools with ice.”
Adding to the strain is the deterioration in his wife’s health. Mrs Tappin visited him in June, but is now no longer allowed to fly on doctor’s orders and is awaiting an operation.
“Elaine is very unwell and this whole situation is really aggravating her condition,” he said. “It used to be me who cared for her. That’s now fallen to my daughter Georgina, but it’s a real strain for her.”
No family will be in El Paso on Nov 5 when appears in court – quite possibly in the manacles and jumpsuit that he had to wear for earlier hearings. “It really wouldn’t serve any purpose to have them there,” he said with resignation. “I just need to get home to them.” As the trial date approaches, the strain is taking its toll. “I used to feel OK, that I have a strong case and didn’t worry too much about it. But the nearer it gets the more I worry.”
He has lost weight and runs his hand through his thinning hair as he spoke, sighing and blowing out air as he talks about his exasperation at his plight.
“It’s utterly devastating to be in this situation at my stage in life,” he said. “I should be spending my retirement looking after my wife, enjoying my new grandchild and playing some golf. Extradition was a very bitter pill to swallow.”
He is not only dealing with the enormity of his legal challenge. He is also undergoing a crash course in American culture, and in particular that of its biggest state, as he finds himself living in a country that he only ever visited as an occasional tourist, the last time 10 years ago.
“Texas is a funny old pace and everything’s just so very different from Kent,” he mused. “They go on about road deaths here but there are guns everywhere and they don’t seem to care. There’s even a Gun Channel on the TV, for heaven’s sake.
“I have made some good friends playing golf, but it is difficult to reconcile how nice some of the people are and how harsh the system is. It’s not just me of course. They’re just as harsh on their own people. They don’t call it ‘Incarceration Nation’ for nothing. There is a huge prison population and the prison industry is a big business.”
Mr Tappin talks regularly to David Bermingham, one of the “NatWest Three”, the British bankers who were also controversially extradited to the US for financial crimes allegedly committed in the UK. The men were jailed in the US after admitting a single offence and sent home to serve out their sentences.
“It’s good to talk to someone who has been in this situation,” he said. And he hopes that a change in the extradition treaty will come in time to help Richard O’Dwyer, a 24-year student in Sheffield, who faces jail in the US for hosting a television download website from his bedsit.
Meanwhile, Mr Tappin is tangling with another immediate headache. His passport has been removed so he cannot board a flight. But his bail conditions restrict his movements to two counties in and around Houston, as his lawyer is based there, and El Paso, where he faces trial – but not the swath of Texas through which he would have to drive between them.
“I’m not quite how I’m even going to get to court,” he said. “What a situation.””
Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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