Briton in Islam Insult Case Comes Home

The Associated Press
Tuesday, December 4, 2007; 3:33 PM

LIVERPOOL, England -- A British teacher returned to her northern English hometown Tuesday after being pardoned in Sudan for insulting Islam by allowing her students to name a teddy bear Muhammad.

Gillian Gibbons took refuge from the media in a hotel, issuing a plea for privacy _ and time to consider interview requests.

Police sealed off the street in front of her son's Liverpool home as more than 40 reporters waited outside. Neighbors poked their heads out of their homes to examine the crush of satellite trucks and camera crews.

"She's had a long journey home and is thinking about events and just wants to spend some time with her family," said Richard Clein, associate director of the Bell Pottinger North public relations firm. "I think the family are surprised at the amount of interest ... we've been asked here to tell you to leave."

After traveling through the night from Sudan, Gibbons told reporters at London's Heathrow Airport that she was stunned by the swift turn of events and her eight days in jail.

"I'm just an ordinary middle-aged primary school teacher. I went out there to have an adventure, and got a bit more than I bargained for," she said. "I don't think anyone could have imagined it would snowball like this."

At her son's home, British Muslims delivered a message of support and brought a bouquet with the message: "Welcome back, Gillian."

"It was outrageous, she shouldn't have been treated that way," said Dr. Abdul Hamid. "She's been the victim of something ridiculous. We're glad she's back home and her ordeal is all over."

Gibbons' supporters have said the case started when a school secretary with a grudge, Sarah Khawad, complained to the Ministry of Education that Gibbons had insulted Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Gibbons' lawyer, Kamal al-Gizouli, and school officials said Khawad was acting out of revenge after she had an argument with the school's principal, though they could not say the cause of the argument.

No parents ever complained, school director Robert Boulos said.

However, the case escalated as Muslim clerics in Sudan sought to drum up public outrage, calling the naming of the teddy bear part of a Western plot to insult the prophet and demanding Gibbons be punished.

Gibbons, 54, was freed Monday after two Muslim members of Britain's House of Lords met with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The teacher sent the president a statement saying she did not mean any offense.

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