Unhealthy punishment

Observations on the ricin plot

The London GP who is treating a defendant cleared in the so-called "ricin plot" trial has said that the man's mental and physical health is being jeopardised by the "house arrest" conditions he has been held under since soon after his acquittal.

Dr Paul Kelland, who practises in Hackney, east London, says the restrictions on Mouloud Sihali are "brutal" and lead to his being denied access to proper treatment for a range of serious conditions.

Sihali, a 30-year-old Algerian, was cleared of terrorism charges at the Old Bailey in April 2005. Five months after his acquittal, the government sought to deport him on grounds of national security. While he waits for his case to be heard by the Special Immigration Appeals Commission in April, Sihali is tagged, subject to an 18-hour curfew and repeatedly moved at 24 hours' notice.

Kelland stresses he has no political axe to grind and speaks purely as Sihali's doctor. He says: "Without a shadow of a doubt, the accommodation and other restrictions he's under pose a serious risk to his mental and physical health and have resulted in delayed treatment."

Sihali is suffering from a range of conditions, including depression, post-traumatic shock and sarcoidosis, a potentially fatal lung disease, which can affect the eyes. Kelland says: "Sarcoidosis is a significant and unpredictable illness. People can deteriorate rapidly, and need to be properly monitored and treated." He is also concerned about Sihali's fragile mental state.

In July 2006, Sihali was moved from accommodation close to his GP's practice in east London to an industrial estate near Slough, some 30-odd miles away. This was opposed by Kelland but he was overruled by a Home Office doctor who insisted that Sihali was fit to be moved.

Kelland describes the decision as "extraordinary". "I wrote as one doctor to another saying I was absolutely clear Mr Sihali should not be moved until after he had been diagnosed and his condition stabilised."

Sihali's solicitor, Natalia Garcia, subsequently succeeded in having him moved back within easier reach of his doctors. However, she says it is a constant battle for him to get the medical treatment he needs. Each time he applies to the court for permission to attend an appointment, the Home Office makes it more difficult, she says.

"We'll send in a request saying he has a hospital appointment at 10am and, to give him enough time to get there, he needs to leave the house at 8am. The Home Office will say they don't want him to leave until 8.15am."

On one occasion, the two sides spent a week wrangling over a difference of ten minutes in the time requested by Sihali and the time the Home Office would accept. (A judge gave Sihali his ten minutes.) In November, he had to cut short an appointment at Moorfields Eye Hospital and leave before tests had been done because he feared being out longer than the time allowed by the Home Office.

Sihali says his health is deteriorating as a result. "They push people to the limit. They can't torture you physically, so they do it mentally. They keep moving you from place to place to make you feel life is not worth living in England."

Garcia says she has other clients who receive obstructive treatment from the Home Office. "What did they imagine anyone could do in that ten minutes that they fought so hard over? This is about interfering with a person's life; it's nothing to do with stopping terrorism."