British drug smuggler Laura Webb 'refused jury trial'

A British woman jailed for drug trafficking in Venezuela was refused a jury trial and key evidence was not heard, Fair Trials International said.

Laura Webb and her ex-husband Paul Makin, of Merseyside, were arrested in February 2009 when 53lb (24kg) of cocaine was found in their bags.

Makin admitted drug trafficking and was jailed for eight years.

Webb was found guilty by a judge last week and jailed for four-and-a-half years.

Makin and Webb, from Birkenhead, had been travelling with their two-year-old twin girls and Webb's children from a previous marriage, a boy of eight and a girl, aged seven.

'Unimaginable ordeal'

The children were taken into the care of the Venezuelan authorities before returning to the UK, to be looked after by extended family.

Jago Russell, chief executive of Fair Trials International, said: "Laura has been through an unimaginable ordeal over the last two years.

"There were intolerable delays in hearing her case, she had to forego her right to trial by jury and key defence evidence was never heard.

"For the sake of Laura's health and the unity of her family, we hope she can return home as soon as possible."

The charity said Ms Webb had undergone an operation while in custody, from which she is still recovering.

During the judge-only trial, Ms Webb's lawyer was not able to put forward evidence that at the time of her arrest, there were no drugs in her bags.

She maintained items were transferred into a contaminated bag by the officers in charge, the charity said.

Webb's mother Cathy issued a statement through Fair Trials International.

"The whole family are incredibly disappointed with the court's decision but after so many years we now need this nightmare to end," she said.

"We all miss Laura terribly and simply want her back home so that we can start to rebuild our lives and give Laura the support she desperately needs."

The Venezuelan authorities were approached but have not yet commented.

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