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MEI Online: People News: Europe: September 4th 2008

 
 

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:: British Minerals Engineer Escapes Trumped-up Charges in Gambia

A British minerals engineer, a graduate of Camborne School of Mines, UK, held in Africa on trumped-up charges was back in the UK today - after being smuggled out of the country in a daring escape.

Father-of-three Charlie Northfield, 48, was forced to swim across a river as he fled officials in Gambia, where he had been held under house arrest for six months. He was detained after authorities in the West African country accused him and his employers of 'economic crimes'. Officials accused Carnegie Minerals of illegally mining titanium, iron ore and uranium, but human rights charities said the charges were false and 'trumped up'.

Mr Northfield was arrested in February and held in Gambia's notorious 'Mile 2' prison for ten days before being released on a $450,000 bail. He was under house arrest in capital Banjul until he was smuggled out ahead of his trial by security expert Martin MacGowan-Scanlon. Mr MacGowan-Scanlon travelled to the country and arranged for Mr Northfield to be bundled into a car and driven to neighbouring Senegal. During his 125-mile trip the fugitive was forced to swim across a river but was eventually flown home and is now back in London after flying into Heathrow.

Charlie Northfield
Charlie Northfield

Mr MacGowan-Scanlon, managing director of Profile Security Services, said Mr Northfield was 'extremely relieved' and had already had a celebratory pint. He said: 'He is a very relieved man. It has been a long journey. There was a blow-out on one of the cars he was travelling in, and a river that should have been fairly easy to cross, he had to swim across. The regime in Gambia has used Charlie as a pawn in its disagreement with his employers and after holding him for a spell in the notorious Mile 2 prison, kept him away from his family by retaining his passport and placing him under effective house arrest. 'Charlie has not seen his children for all of that time and, although his wife was able to be with him in Gambia for a short time, she left a month ago in order not to hinder any potential departure.' Mr Northfield's brother Phil, of Plymouth, Devon, said: 'He's back in the country. It's fantastic news. But we have no details of how he got here.' Details of the escape route are being kept secret but the engineer was flown from Senegalese capital Dakar to Casablanca in Morocco before returning to Britain.

Carnegie Minerals has been operating in Gambia since 1999, digging mineral sands which are sent to China for use in construction. Mr Northfield joined the SeneGambia mineral sands project last October but officials said the mining was illegal and exporting the ore therefore constituted smuggling.

The charges related to the 'understatement' of the value and content of mineral exports between 2006 and December 2007. In January, Carnegie, which has offices in London and Australia, suspended its operation after the Gambian government began a probe its operations. The company's mining licence was cancelled and Mr Northfield was arrested on February 12.

A spokesman for Carnegie refused to comment but denied the firm had helped or arranged for Mr Northfield to be smuggled out of Gambia.

Mr Northfield, originally from Plymouth, normally lives in Thailand with his wife Neung and children and had travelled to Gambia to manage Carnegie's operations. Speaking in March, he said: 'I have no idea how long the court case will take. The police had no evidence, but I was still charged.'

 

 

   

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