Joy at pal’s release from overseas jail

28 December 2011  Gary Edwards with a photograph of his friend Billy Burton taken in 1993 imprisoned in a maxaimum security compound in Muntinlupa in the philippines

28 December 2011 Gary Edwards with a photograph of his friend Billy Burton taken in 1993 imprisoned in a maxaimum security compound in Muntinlupa in the philippines

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A KIPPAX man has spoken of his joy after his friend – who was convicted of drug smuggling offences – was released after 19 years behind bars in a Philippine jail.

Painter and decorator Gary Edwards, 54, said there was going to “one hell of a party” to celebrate friend Billy Burton’s return to the UK after he was granted a Boxing Day pardon.

The Leeds United superfan and author has known Billy, also a familiar face on the terraces at Elland Road, since childhood and had been in regular contact with him during his time in jail in Manila – also sending money collected by fellow Leeds supporters.

Gary said he was thrilled to hear of Billy’s pardon from Philippines president Benigno Aquino III on December 26 – 19 years to the day since he was first put behind bars for trying to smuggle 12lbs of cannabis out of the country.

Gary said: “I’ve known Billy since we were kids. I’ve been writing to him and sending him money from collections we have done.

“Sadly his mother Theresa died over a year ago and this would have helped her no end, I’m sure.

“The treatment given to Billy has been scandalous. In 2000, the King of the Philippines pardoned all sorts of people: paedophiles, rapists, muggers, but not Billy.

“Despite deteriorating health, he has remained upbeat. We’re going to throw one hell of a party.”

Billy, from Wetherby, now 48, was given a life-term of 30 years after he was caught with the drugs in 1992. He was told he could expect to serve eight years before being considered for parole.

However, before he reached eligibility to apply, the Filipino government changed the law, imposing stricter sentences for drugs offences, even retrospectively.

He would not have been due for release until 2032, by which time he would have been 70 and have served 41 years in jail.

President Aquino granted Billy a pardon on the grounds of his deteriorating health.

He will now be freed providing he never returns to the Philippines and pays a £294 fine.