Cardiff family plea for grandson's release from Yemen

Image caption,
Luke Symons - now known as Jamal - on his wedding day in Yemen

A grandfather has spoken of his anger and anguish over the plight of his grandson - imprisoned without charge in war-torn Yemen for nearly two years.

Robert Cummings said his family feel let down by the UK government over its failure to secure the release of Luke Symons.

The 26-year-old from Cardiff was seized as a suspected spy in 2017.

Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said it was a "very distressing case" after his local MP brought his plight to light.

Born and bred in south Wales, Luke converted to Islam in his late teens - taking the name Jamal.

Aged 20, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca before travelling to Egypt and then Yemen, where he taught English and married.

Media caption,
Luke tells family in Cardiff he is refusing to eat until he is released

When conflict broke out in 2015, the couple left the country but could not return to the UK because Luke's wife, Tagreed, had lost her passport amid the chaos.

They returned to Yemen and had a baby though continued to explore ways of escaping the bloody civil war that has claimed thousands of lives.

Image caption,
Luke with his baby son Hoode

However two years ago, as he presented his British passport to withdraw money to fund his family's passage out of Yemen, Luke was arrested as a suspected spy.

His family in Cardiff were told by Luke's friend he had been taken to a political prison and has been badly beaten.

"He said Luke will come under a death sentence if they find him guilty of spying, which we thought ridiculous at that time," re-called Robert, 69.

"Luke wasn't a spy, he couldn't even spy in Cardiff - never mind anywhere else - but that's what they were going to charge him with."

His mother, Jane Lawrence, has felt powerless. She said: "As a mum you want to get on that plane and do something - but you can't.

"You're in limbo. You don't sleep at night. Every time you close your eyes you see them doing bad things to him. It's terrible."

Image caption,
At least 6,800 civilians have been killed and 10,700 injured in the civil war in Yemen, according to the UN

The family told the Foreign Office and South Wales Police about Luke's plight but said the only information they have has come from the local Yemeni community in Cardiff.

"They [officials] would come here to have meetings with us and we've gone to London - what for?" said Jane.

"Luke is still in the same predicament he was when all this started."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office would only confirm it has provided advice to the UK-based family of a British national detained in Yemen since 2017 and continue to do so.

Image caption,
Mr Brennan brought the case to light in the Commons on Tuesday

The family's case has been taken up by local MP, Kevin Brennan, who raised Luke's plight on the floor of the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Speaking ahead of that intervention, Mr Brennan said: "We don't know, for sure, the Foreign Office's workings are around this. I understand that, they are in a war zone.

"But it is frustrating that Mr Cummings feels he's had more assistance from the local Yemeni community in Cardiff than from the Government itself."

Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt responded in the Commons: "We continue to have contact with Luke's family. We aren't able to offer consular assistance in Yemen. We appreciate that he was in Yemen before the conflict broke and we'll continue to exert every effort we can to try and find a way to get him home."

Image caption,
Luke's mother Jane said the uncertainty of his whereabouts is "breaking" the family

Luke's family understands an investigation in Yemen has now cleared Luke of spying and before Christmas their hopes were raised further when release papers were signed.

Last month Robert and Luke were even able to talk by phone, the first time anyone had spoken to Luke for two years. However he remains behind bars.

"We want him home. Whether we can do it, or the Yemeni community or the British Government - they've got to take action now.

"There's no reason for him to be in that prison."

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