Minister seeks clemency for thalidomide survivor from Philippines president


A government minister has written to the president of the Philippines to ask for the release of a thalidomide survivor who has served 18 years in prison for drug smuggling.

Liberal Democrat Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne has asked Benigno Aquino III for “clemency” in the case of Billy Burton.

Burton was handed a life sentence after he was caught trying to smuggle more than five kilogrammes of cannabis out of the country in 1992.

But the time he had to serve before being eligible for parole was increased from eight to 20 years, then 30 years and then 40 years as the government increased sentences for drugs offenders. Burton is now not due for release until 2032, when he will be 70.

The campaign to push for clemency on the grounds of Burton’s impairment is being led by Guy Tweedy – another thalidomide survivor – who met Browne before Christmas to ask for his support.

Tweedy said: “I am very grateful that they are actually going to do something. I am very optimistic.”

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “Jeremy Browne did write a letter to the president, which was passed to the president’s office by our ambassador, and that was supporting the plea for clemency.” The letter was delivered on 14 February.

The Thalidomide Trust, which administers the compensation paid to UK thalidomide survivors, has supported Burton during his prison sentence, and is backing the campaign.

The trust’s national advisory council – an elected committee representing thalidomide survivors – is also backing the campaign. Tweedy is deputy-chair of the council.

Burton, originally from Wetherby, west Yorkshire, has ongoing health problems related to his thalidomide impairment.

He and more than 15,000 other prisoners are kept in huge warehouse-type buildings, and have to buy or beg wood to build their own living spaces.

They also have to buy any food other than the basic ration of rice, and to protect themselves from other prisoners must belong to one of the four gangs that rule the prison. 21 February 2011