By Simon Caldwell THE PAPAL nuncio to Great Britain has been asked to help to save a man from a possible death sentence next month.
David Chell, 56, a Catholic from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, is in Penang prison, Malaysia, awaiting trial for allegedly smuggling heroin. He claims he was set up by police at Penang airport in October 1998 while travelling to Australia.
Mr Chell said he refused to pay a bribe to an airport policeman to allow him on to his plane. The officer, he maintains, then took him into a room and produced condoms packed with heroin then announced he had found them on Mr Chell.
The nuncio, Archbishop Pablo Puente, has been asked to intervene because on July 3 Mr..Chell comes before a judipe who, without a jury, will decide whether or not the man is guilty. If convicted, he will he hanged.
Alex Bromiley, a London housing officer who knew father-of-two Mr Chell, a psychiatric nurse, when they worked for charities for the homeless in the capital in the mid-I990s, is among those convinced of his innocence.
He said: "David had never been known to associate himself with drugs and indeed has been a teetotaller for some years. He has even written an award-winning piece on the dangers of non-prescribed drugs. There is no reason to disbelieve David's version of events."
He added: "Close observers of the case, as well as his defence counsel, Karpal Singh (currently also defending Anwar, the ex-deputy Prime Minister, and who is working on David's case for free), all believe that David is innocent and that the trial should not have proceeded this fan "In April, the judge allowed perjured evidence to stand within the case for the prosecution relating to key actions at the point of arrest. The police had for some reason also destroyed their record of the arrest in the police log.
"They do not have any fingerprint or other forensic evidence linking David to the drugs. Furthermore, one of the main prosecution witnesses, another policeman, is himself being charged with extortion. Finally, the main investigating officer has not once met or questioned David in a year and a half . . . it seems that it is merely the word of the police against David's."
Fr Kit Cunningham, parish priest of St Etheldreda's, Holborn, London, who has contacted the nuncio about Mr Chell, said: "It looks as though he's been set up.
"I have written to ask the nuncio to use his good offices in the Vatican firstly to get the Bishop of Penang to send a priest to this man, and secondly, knowing the Holy Father's views on capital punishment, to make a cause celebre out of it."
Mr Chell is being held in solitary confinement and is the only western prisoner out of a population of 1,400 inmates. One of his few visitors returned with stories of how he sleeps with rats, cannot eat the food, is in bad health and is desperate for reading material to occupy his time.