Campaigners Welcome Decision to Release William Burton, Caught Smuggling Cannabis in 1992, on Health Grounds
Campaigners have welcomed the news that a Briton jailed for drug offences in the Philippines nearly 20 years ago has been pardoned from his life sentence.
William Burton, known as Billy, was jailed for 30 years in 1992 after being caught trying to smuggle 12lb of cannabis out of the country.
He has received a pardon from the Philippines president, Benigno Aquino III, after campaigns in the UK to secure his release on the grounds of his deteriorating health. Burton, 48, from Rufforth, North Yorkshire, will be released on the condition that he returns home, never returns to the Philippines and pays a 20,000 peso ( #294 ) fine.
Burton, who was damaged by the drug thalidomide and born with shortened arms and twisted hands, was 29 when he got into financial difficulties while travelling the world. He decided to smuggle drugs out of the Philippines but was arrested at Manila airport as he tried to board a flight to Australia.
Burton was given a life term of 30 years and initially told he could expect to serve eight years before being considered for parole. But, during that time, changes in drugs laws in the Philippines meant he became ineligible for parole and his sentence was increased to 40 years with a release date of 2032.
Since being jailed, he has faced a catalogue of health problems commonly suffered by those damaged by thalidomide, and has recently lost some hearing.
Campaigners said he accepted what he had done was wrong.
He wrote a letter to the Wetherby News in which he said: “For my disrespect, lack of decency and failure to uphold moral standards when I committed a crime 18 years ago, I have only regrets. There are no excuses. I do not think however that only bad people do bad things; sometimes good people also do bad things.”
Burton’s cousin, Angela Morris, told the newspaper his pardon was “the best present you could ask for”.
Guy Tweedy, who set up the campaign group Free Billy Burton, said it was good news. “I’ve been campaigning for 20-odd months now.
“While we don’t condone what he did, he’s deteriorated as a thalidomider and we had to get him out. I’ve never met him but I just felt that, looking at his case, he’s done his time.”
Freddie Astbury, president of Thalidomide UK, also welcomed the news.
“We were very concerned about his health because his health had deteriorated rapidly since being in prison,” he said. “Obviously, nobody supports why he was there but, at the end of the day, his health’s deteriorated and he needs to be in a safe environment now and get all the help that he needs.”
Astbury added: “The main thing is, get him back, get him treated and get him the health he deserves and as quickly as possible.”