- A British mining engineer awaiting trial on charges of illegally exporting uranium in The Gambia has escaped jurisdiction after he was smuggled out of the West African country by agents of a British security firm.
Charlie Northfield, who was smuggled across the border to Senegal, has finally returned to his home in Plymouth on Tuesday. He had spent six months in prison and under house arrest.
Mr. Northfield, 48, and father of three, was driven 125 miles through the bush before swimming a flood-swollen river to cross the border into Senegal from where he flew to Britain via Morocco.
His arrest and prosecution resulted after Carnegie Minerals, a mining firm he manages in Banjul was accused of illegal exporting. He spent ten days in prison before being released on bail with the sum of $450,000, and subsequently charged with economic crimes and theft.
Gambian authorities charged Mr. Northfield and the company over alleged understating the value and content of mineral exports, and struck the Australian company's mining licence.
Besides, Gambian foreign minister Crispin Grey-Johnson said between 2006 and December 2007, the company export some 20,000 tonnes of sand with “heavy concentration of uranium” to Australia and China.
The Briton, who denied all charges, had had his passport confiscated by Gambian authorirites. He was given temporary papers to fly home, and is now waiting to acquire a new passport so that he could travel to Thailand to reunite with his desperate family.
He said the escape was like "something in a film."
"I was driven in a few different taxis and we passed through several police checkpoints. The driver sorted things out, but I was worried someone would recognise me as my face had been plastered on the front pages of their papers," he told www.timesonline.co.uk.
"Probably the most frightening part was reaching a river that I had been told would be shallow enough to walk through. It was swollen and quite fast-flowing so I had to strip off and swim across. The river was about 50 yards across and I was swept another 100 yards downstream. By the time I reached the other side I was completely knackered. I really have a great sense of relief. The whole thing has been a nightmare."
Mr Northfield said his escape was done out of fear that he would be denied a fair trial in Gambian courts.
"I had been to court 13 times but they were no closer to starting the trial and I had a strong sense they never would be. The ordeal was not going to end unless we did something. We had tried negotiating but to no avail, and I was feeling desperate."
A former army captain who heads a security consultancy in Torquay, Devon, organised the escape. Martin McGowan-Scanlon was incensed at Mr. Northfield's treatment, scolding Gambian government for using Charlie as a "pawn in its disagreement with his former employers."
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