A few weeks ago Jenny and I were lying in bed watching an episode of Channel Five’s ‘Locked Up Abroad’. The episode featured the story of Sarah Jackson and Simon Burke. In early 2007, Sarah, having got herself in debt with a threatening and abusive drug dealer had agreed to go to Peru and smuggle cocaine back with her in exchange for clearing her debts. She invited her friend Simon on the holiday to unwittingly provide an air of legitimacy for her trip. Simon was unaware of the real reason for the trip.
Towards the end of the trip, Sarah excused herself from Simon and returned to the hotel room where she took delivery of the cocaine and hid it inside her suitcase. At the airport she sent Simon to the information desk to enquire about his luggage which had gone missing on the flight over there while she checked in. Sarah checked in ok but was stopped because of a suspicious passport. When her bag was searched the police found the cocaine. Simon, unaware of this, returned from the info desk to find her and was taken by the police into a room where he saw Sarah and the cocaine. Simon’s shyness and stumbling speech convinced the police that he was involved despite Sarah’s protestations that he was innocent. The police footage taken during the search and shortly after the arrest shown in the show demonstrate just how dumbfounded and terrified Simon was. Nevertheless Sarah and Simon were jailed for 18 days together before being separated and sent to different prisons. Simon was sent to a violent, nightmarish men’s prison while Sarah was sent to a women’s prison which had much in common with a busy day care centre.
The Peruvian justice system is so overwhelmed that only 1 in 8 inmates of Sarah’s prison have been convicted. It took 10 months in prison before the police accepted Sarah’s confession and statement of Simon’s innocence and Simon was freed in November 2007. However until Sarah’s is convicted, the police are retaining Simon’s passport as he is still a witness in the Peruvian courts and potentially, still a suspect. As such, Simon was stuck in limbo in Peru, awaiting the outcome of Sarah’s trial so he can be allowed home.
I watched this show a few weeks ago as I said and I decided to check up on what happened to the case, I remember Jenny and I watching the show cringing and thinking how awful it must be to be trapped in limbo like that. I thought the show might have been recorded last year or something and was horrified that Simon is still stuck in Peru a year on from his release, visiting court regularly while he awaits Sarah’s trial. I couldn’t believe it, he was such a nice, honest, genuine guy. His only mistake is to be unwittingly caught up in somebody else’s scam.
What amazes me is that apart from the Banged Up Abroad episode, how little mainstream press this case is getting. The guy is clearly innocent and yet is being held in a country with no means of supporting himself. He is staying in the spare room of a Peruvian family waiting to be cleared. It has cost his family £10,000 and he has lost 2 years of his life and still counting for doing nothing wrong. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. The whole thing touched me so much I decided to get involved. I’ve never met Simon but the story really upset me.
After being refused a petition by http://www.number10.gov.uk/ on the basis that it is a Home Office issue, you can sign the petition to campaign for Simon to be allowed to return home at http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/send-simon-home.html
There are 2 Facebook groups dedicated to campaigning for him to be allowed to return home. If you’re on Facebook, search for “Get Simon Burke Home” and “Send Simon Home”. While the petition and Facebook groups will have little affect on the Peruvian government or judicial systems directly, the campaign for greater media exposure that these things are aiming for will hopefully push the otherwise ineffectual British Home Office and British Embassy in Lima into working harder to get Simon sent home.
A few people have asked why he doesn’t just jump the border by illegal means or whether he would return to Peru if allowed home. He says himself that he doesn’t want to jeopardise his case. If he were caught trying to jump the border he would be screwed. He has no wish to avoid the legal proceedings he is involved in, he just wants to clear his name and get back to his life.
There are 2 local newspaper articles featuring the case here and here. Read them if you will. Simon has been to court several times since they were published, despite one article claiming he may soon be released.
You can watch the episode of Banged Up Abroad at Channel Five here though I’m told you need to sign-up and it requires Windows Media Player. If you find it affects you in the same way it did me, then why don’t you sign the petition and join the Facebook groups which are keeping his spirits up and are the focal point for people trying to raise the media’s awareness of the case.
Now I’m not prone to this kind of thing, I’m not the type for campaigning like a teen soap character who is always fighting for some cause or other, but I just felt really bad for the guy and I was really surprised that he was still stuck in Peru.
In any case, I wish Simon the best I hope he is allowed to return home soon.
UPDATE 22/11/2008: Simon’s innocence was confirmed by the Peruvian courts on 24th November 2008 and is now free to return home, pending application for the return of his passport and should be home by Christmas. Best wishes my man.
UPDATE 17/03/2009: Simon is still in Peru as the prosecution has appealed despite Simon’s acquittal. Looks like he could be there for several more months. You can vote to ask David Miliband, the UK Foreign Secretary about Simon’s case here or donate to the cost of Simon’s living expenses here. To date it has cost Simon’s parents around £20,000 as he receives no income in Peru, anything you can add to offset those costs would be gratefully received.
Keep up to date with Simon’s case by joining the Get Simon Burke Home group on Facebook here.
UPDATE 09/10/2009: After 2 and a half years, Simon’s case has been completed and all paperwork finished, he is now free to return home and should do so on Sunday 11th October 2009. It looks like there might be quite a large welcoming party 🙂 You can find out more on Facebook here. Best wishes mate, good to have you home 🙂
UPDATE 12/10/2009: Simon is now back home with his family in England.