I couldn't eat, sleep or read for worry, says Briton after 20-day jail ordeal
Relief mixed with anger at FBI as wrongly jailed man is released tells of ordeal
Rory Carroll in Durban and Steven Morris
Thursday February 27, 2003
What made Derek Bond cry was not the bars on the window, or the thin mattress on the concrete floor which passed for a bed, or the inedible food, but the thought that back home in Britain his six grandchildren would be taunted by classmates that their grandfather was in jail.
Stooped and hesitant, the 72-year-old gave the first press conference of his life yesterday after emerging from a South African police cell in Durban to savour freedom and the knowledge that it was the turn of the man who allegedly stole his identity to be locked up.
The sandals, green socks, khaki shorts and grey T-shirt blended well withthe England cricket fans soaking up Durban's sunshine, but Mr Bond lacked their jaunty mood, breaking down at every mention of children or grandchildren and sinking into an embrace from his wife Audrey, 71.
"It is an enormous relief to be out, wonderful. But the time spent in the cells was not pleasant. I had to sleep on a concrete floor with a mattress.There was light from the corridor but no direct light in the cell. The external window was double-meshed with bars in between.
"I'm a European and not used to these conditions. There was a toilet which flushed and I was jolly grateful for that."
For the first three days after his arrest on February 6 he ate not a crumb.
"I had such a knot in here," the retired businessman said, indicating his stomach. When I was ready to eat I was happy to try the African food but it was not for me. So I lived on the fruit brought to me by my wife." Almost smiling, he added: "I was quite pleased to lose weight."
Audrey Bond, even more drawn than her husband, grimaced when recounting the ordeal: "I have never felt like this in my life. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't eat."
For Mr Bond, the hardest thing was not being able to see his family and the image of classmates teasing the grandchildren. "You know what children are like."
Mr Bond's wine tasting holiday was interrupted by South African police acting on instructions from Interpol, which relayed a request from the FBI to detain the Bristol pensioner in the belief he was the wanted fraudster, known as Derek Sykes, who stole Mr Bond's identity.
Despite having agents in Pretoria and digital images of the fraudster, the FBI did not check they had the right man, not even when the Foreign Office voiced doubts, until the family broke the story to the media this week.
The publicity appears to have prompted an anonymous tip which led to the arrest in Las Vegas of the man suspected of a US £3m tele-marketing fraud, allowing the release of the man whose passport number he had apparently used since 1989.
Told the Americans had offered an apology, the wronged man flashed with anger for the first time. "I think they owe me a great deal more than that.
There was very, very little action from the FBI. Nobody took a statemen tfrom me until I had been 10 days in the police cells - [that] was the first time that they asked me who I was."
He will discuss compensation claims with lawyers. "There does seem to be a justified claim. Though I have protested my innocence from the beginning, that made little impact on the FBI. I was becoming quite despondent, I thought that they would take a more human approach. My criticism of the FBI is extreme."
He said he was forced to sleep on a thin mat on his cell's concrete floor,and was only allowed to meet his wife Audrey after the intervention of the British consul.
Mr Bond was detained for seven hours upon arrival on January 27 at Cape Town airport, his first inkling that in March 2002 the FBI had put a so-called red card on his passport. But the bureau ignored the South African alert so he was released, only to be picked up the following week in Kwa Zulu- Natal after a belated response from the FBI.
Mr Bond said he would have been still in jail, rather than a conference room of a seafront Holiday Inn, if the media had not highlighted his plight. The South African police had merely followed protocol and merited no criticism, nor would Mr Bond criticise the Foreign Office for keeping his ordeal out of the headlines.
His days were spent failing to read books brought by his wife. "I couldn't concentrate after two or three paragraphs. If anything held me together it was the Mercury newspaper because I liked their crossword."
Mr Bond's voice faltered again when speaking of the support of his three grown-up children, though he could have been describing star employees from the firm of civil engineers he founded: "They are experienced, they are senior people and they have taken important decisions."
His daughter Gillian, 46, a geologist, said: "It's incredible. We are thrilled and cannot wait for my father to get back home. We are angry and happy. We are angry at the FBI. They are incompetent and careless. And we also feel we didn't get enough help from the British government."
She hoped her father would take a few days to recuperate in South Africa before flying home. She said: "His health is not good. He needs to undergo medical checks but he is an incredibly strong person. He will get over all this."
The FBI refused to comment on the case yesterday. John Lewis, of the
US attorney's office spokesman, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We
had the wrong man. He deserves an apology and he certainly gets one from
me. I do apologise and others, I'm sure, will as well."