Thatcher condemns `judicial kidnap' of Pinochet

 

The long shadow of Margaret Thatcher continued to fall on the Conservative conference last night, as the former prime minister broke her "self-denying ordinance" to condemn the British authorities for the "judicial kidnap" of Gen Pinochet.

Within hours of her arrival in Blackpool, Baroness Thatcher had inflamed the Tory civil war over Europe - telling Scottish delegates "in my lifetime all the problems have come from mainland Europe and all the solutions have come from the English-speaking nations across the world".

And last night she came to a packed conference fringe meeting organised by the Chilean Reconciliation Movement to speak of her "shame and anger" at the way in which "Chile - its honour, its dignity, its sovereignty and its former ruler - have been treated". Lady Thatcher said the circumstances of Gen Pinochet's arrest, having been received in Britain "as an honoured guest" would have done "credit to a police state". Lashing Mr Blair's as "a government which discredits and dishonours Britain" she told her enthusiastic audience that the "Revenge of the International Left" - and not justice for the victim - was the motivation for the case against Gen Pinochet.

The Conservative leader, Mr William Hague, is officially at one with Baroness Thatcher in opposing the Spanish extradition attempt, arguing that any actions against the former dictator should be a matter for the Chilean courts. His office yesterday maintained he was "totally relaxed" about her headline-grabbing interventions on both issues. Privately, however, senior Tories were dismayed that the media focus was on the former prime minister, to the near-exclusion of events within the conference centre itself - and that her most lengthy defence of Gen Pinochet had overshadowed the build-up to Mr Hague's big conference speech this afternoon.

Denouncing Spain's "arrogant interference in Chilean affairs", Lady Thatcher said then-president Pinochet had been Britain's "true friend in our time of need when Argentina seized the Falkland Islands". On his express instructions,, and at great risk, she said "Chile provided enormously valuable assistance". Some 250 members of the British armed forces lost their lives during the conflict, and without president Pinochet, she said, there would have been many more.

"We all owe him, and Chile, a great debt," she declared. "But how did the authorities under this Labour government choose to repay him? I will tell you. By collaborating in his judicial kidnap."

Lady Thatcher said "the chance of Senator Pinochet receiving anything resembling what we in Britain would recognise as `justice' in a Spanish court is minimal - not least because key witnesses for his defence run the immediate risk of arrest if they set foot on Spanish soil". What was planned there, she said, "is a show trial, with a predetermined outcome - lingering death in a foreign land". There were implications for heads of government everywhere, "as they see that at some future date they may be hauled out of hospital in a foreign country at dead of night to face some trumped-up charge".

Lashing the conduct of Mr Blair's ministers, she declared: "This is a government that grovels to collaborate with Spain, whose bullying of Gibraltar is a daily outrage - yet treats our Chilean allies with contempt. This is a government which reckons that ageing spies, who betrayed our country to Soviet communism, should escape prosecution - yet obsessively pursues the frail 83-year-old Pinochet, who stopped the communists taking Chile." This was a government, she continued, "which grants amnesties to unrepentant terrorist murderers - yet overturns an amnesty in Chile, and imperils that country's young democracy".

The left in Chile, and in Britain, had had "to abandon all the rhetoric, and most of the policies, of socialism in order to get into power", " said Lady Thatcher: "But what they couldn't and wouldn't abandon was the poisonous prejudices they harboured in their youth. And this, of course, was the situation when a trusting, elderly, former Chilean ruler chose to pay one too many visits to his beloved Britain last autumn." When the communists nearly assassinated him in 1986, "president Pinochet knew he was being fired on by his enemies". But, said Lady Thatcher, "little could he imagine that a new, legal and political assassination was to be planned for him in the Britain he trusted as a friend."