By Andrew Groves
FORMER Wetherby resident Billy Burton has been granted a conditional pardon by Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III after serving 19 years in prison for drug smuggling.
The Thalidomide victim, was facing the prospect of dying in prison after his sentence was increased to life.
It will bring to an end a long campaign by his supporters and the Wetherby News to secure his freedom.
Billy’s cousin, Angela Morris, described the news as “incredible” and thanked everyone for their help.
“I cannot describe how I’m feeling, it’s very hard to put it into words right now,” she said.
“This is just the best present you could ask for.
“It really is going to take a while to sink in, it’s almost disbelieving at the moment.
“There are so many people to thank for all their kindness and support. The people of Wetherby and of course the Wetherby News for backing such a controversial subject.
“To Guy Tweedy, John Wade, Rob Ellis, everyone of Billy’s friends who have written letters, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
“Especially Guy. He’s such an incredible person, who is passionate and full of determination. If it wasn’t for him Billy would still be in jail.”
The conditions for Billy’s pardon include payment of a fine amounting to P20,000 (approximately £294), that he shall voluntarily agree to be deported and never to return to the Philippines again.
On Boxing Day, 1992, Billy, aged 29, was caught trying to smuggle 5.6 kilograms of cannabis out of the country.
He was subsequently given a life term of 30 years.
Initially he was informed that he could expect to serve eight years before being considered for parole. However, before he reached eligibility to apply the Filipino government enforced an embargo on parole for all drug offenders, irrespective of whether sentencing had taken place prior to the ruling.
Retrospective increases in sentences for all drug related offences meant that Billy would not have been due for release until 2032, by which time he would have been 70.
After visiting him in prison, director of the Thalidomide trust Dr Martin Johnston, spoke to fellow Thalidomide victim Guy Tweedy.
In conjunction with the Wetherby News, a “Free Billy Burton” campaign was set-up and gathered pace after receiving the backing from the majority of the Wetherby public.
In a letter to the Wetherby News last year, Billy said: “For my disrespect, lack of decency and failure to uphold moral standards when I committed a crime 18 years ago, I have only regrets.
“There are no excuses. I do not think however that only bad people do bad things; sometimes good people also do bad things.”
Foreign Office minister Jeremy Browne welcomed the news: “I supported Billy’s clemency appeal given the compelling, compassionate circumstances of his case, and discussed it with both President Aquino and Justice Secretary, Leila De Lima, during my recent visit to the Philippines,” he said.
“I know that this news will be warmly welcomed by Billy’s family and his supporters at the Thalidomide Trust who have campaigned tirelessly on Billy’s behalf.”