A British holidaymaker jailed in Morocco for being gay has had a tearful reunion with his family as he returned to the UK following his release from prison.
Ray Cole, 69, was imprisoned for four months with his Moroccan friend Jamal Jam Wald Nass after homosexual images were found on his password-protected phone.
The pair were confined in a crowded, barbed-wire topped Marrakesh jail but Mr Cole was granted a conditional release today after an appeal was lodged.
Mr Cole was met by his family at Gatwick airport last night and told reporters that he was “relieved” to be back home.
He said: “I did not expect this at all – I thought I was going to be transferred to a different prison. They gave me a choice of staying in Morocco another night or getting the next flight back.
“You would not believe it, it’s horrendous. It’s not a prison, it’s a concentration camp. People are in there from the age of 10 to 80 and 90s for nothing. I can hardly move my arm from sleeping on the floor.”
When asked about the support from his family he said: “I’m so proud of them - I could not have a better family.”
His son, Adrian Cole, 41, said: “Our legal team in Marrakesh lodged an appeal today. It has moved much faster than we expected and the court was able to take the step of releasing my father.
“We would like to express our gratitude as a family to the thousands of people who have offered us their support and kindness. I would also like to offer my thanks to the Moroccan authorities.”
It is unclear what has happened to Mr Nass.
The case has generated huge interest on social media from supporters who asked for the Moroccan authorities to free retired Mr Cole, from Deal, Kent.
As well as a petition, a “Free Ray Cole” hashtag circulated on Twitter and a Facebook page was set up calling for the release of Mr Cole, who has a minor heart condition.
He struck up a friendship with Mr Nass, who is in his 20s, on Facebook. It was on Mr Cole’s second visit to Morocco to see him that they were detained at a bus stop by officers.
Mr Cole, who is 70 on October 25, was four weeks into a five-week break in the north African country when the pair were held on September 18.
Confusion initially reigned over where he was being held until he was eventually tracked down.
On October 2 his family received a phone call telling them the pair had been jailed for four months. They had feared a six-month jail term as a worst-case scenario.
He was being kept in a cell intended for 44 men which was holding 60, forcing Mr Cole to sleep on the ground and live with dangerous prisoners.
Relatives tried to make his time behind bars more bearable by buying essentials, including multi-vitamins to compensate for the lack of nutritional food.
Adrian Cole said that the guards and prison governor had treated the family “graciously” and that his father’s release had been a “massive step towards restoring my faith towards the Moroccan system”.
The British Foreign Office website says homosexuality is a criminal offence in Morocco.
It states: “Sexual relations outside marriage are also punishable by law.”
But Mr Cole’s local MP, Conservative Charlie Elphicke, branded the charges “medieval” and said it showed British tourists were not safe in Morocco.
Former deputy speaker of the UK's House of Commons Nigel Evans also lashed out at the “archaic” law that sent Mr Cole to prison.