The heads of companies with even the slightest connection with America are looking at David Bermingham, Gary Mulgrew and Giles Darby – the so-called NatWest Three – and thinking: there but for the grace of God go I.
The three former bank employees have been charged in the US with wire fraud relating to alleged dealings with disgraced energy giant Enron. Having failed to persuade the European Court of Human Rights or the House of Lords that they should not be extradited to America, they have packed their bags, resigned to the fact that they could be behind bars in Texas as early as next week.
Tony Blair said yesterday that he had instructed officials to look into “whether there’s any support or assurances we can give that if they are extradited then they are actually given the opportunity to be bailed”. However, there is a groundswell of opinion among Britain’s business elite that the three have been left swinging by the Government.
Critics say Number 10 is more concerned with cosying up to the Bush administration than in safeguarding its own citizens’ rights. Ros Altmann, governor of the London School of Economics, said: “Why should the American government look after its citizens better than ours does. It’s the thin end of the wedge. The Government decides who it thinks is important and who doesn’t need protecting. It is symptomatic of its contempt for certain groups of people.”
Sir John Ritblat, chairman of FTSE 100 property firm British Land, who has long experience of running businesses on both sides of the Atlantic, said: “That you can sit in the slammer before they’ve even prepared a case against you is unconscionable. The legal system has run amok in the States. It’s nothing to do with right and wrong any more.”