Gillian Gibbons, the teacher jailed in Sudan for allowing her students to name a teddy bear Mohammed, arrived back in Britain today and declared: “I never imagined this would happen. I am just an ordinary primary school teacher.”
Looking happy to be home, Mrs Gibbons added: “I went out there to have a bit of an adventure and got more of an adventure than I bargained for.”
Hugging her son John, she said she was glad to be back and was in “total shock”.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my family and friends and to have a good rest.
“It has been an ordeal but I was well treated in prison and everyone was very kind to me.”
Mrs Gibbons said: “I am very sorry to leave Sudan. I had a fabulous time.
“It is a beautiful place and I had a chance to see some of the countryside. The Sudanese people I found to be extremely kind and generous and until this happened I only had a good experience.”
Mrs Gibbons, 54, touched down at London’s Heathrow Airport shortly after 7am.
The mother-of-two spent more than a week in jail for insulting Islam after letting her seven-year-old pupils give the bear the same name as the sacred prophet.
She was sentenced to 15 days in jail last week but was released early after diplomacy by British peers Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi secured a pardon from the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir yesterday.
Mrs Gibbons told reporters at Heathrow: “I wouldn’t like to put anyone off going to Sudan.
“I would like to thank Lord Ahmed and Baroness Warsi and I would like to thank all the people who have worked so hard to secure my release and make my time more bearable.”
Mrs Gibbons left Sudan last night, flying via Dubai to London.
She slept for much of the journey, telling reporters: “I just want to relax, I don’t want to say any more. I’m too tired.”
John and Mrs Gibbons’s daughter Jessica travelled from their homes in Liverpool to Heathrow to greet their mother.
Mrs Gibbons told reporters at the airport: “The Ambassador and staff at the embassy were fantastic, I couldn’t have got through the ordeal without their support.”
Referring to the school where she worked, she said: “The support I received there was legendary and I will miss my class and colleagues immensely.
“I would also like to thank everybody who sent me messages of support - although I haven’t read any of them yet – and my long-suffering family and friends.”
When asked about the teddy bear row, she said: “I don’t really know enough about it. It is a very difficult and delicate area.
“I was very upset to think I might have caused any offence.”
Her jail sentence provoked strong condemnation from Muslim groups in the UK.
But on Friday thousands of protesters, many carrying knives and sticks, took to the streets of Khartoum, Sudan’s capital complaining that it was too lenient.
Chanting “Shame, shame on the UK”, they called for Mrs Gibbons’ execution, saying “No tolerance: Execution” and “Kill her, kill her by firing squad”.
That night Mrs Gibbons moved from the Omdurman women’s prison near Khartoum to a secret location for her own safety.
During her trial it emerged that the person who sparked the arrest was school office assistant Sara Khawad who complained to the Ministry of Education.
Mrs Gibbons said that while in jail she was unaware of the scale of furore surrounding her case.
She said: “The second day in prison somebody told me they had seen me in a paper in Sudan and then I had a meeting with the British consul, who told me it was in the papers over here too.
“I was isolated in custody and didn’t really hear what was going on and they didn’t allow me many visitors to begin with.
“It has all come as a huge shock to me.”
Mrs Gibbons said that going to prison was “terrifying” although she never actually spent any time in the Omdurman women’s jail.
Mrs Gibbons said that she was treated the same as any other Sudanese prisoner and said that the Ministry of Interior sent her a bed which was “the best present”.
When asked if she was going to continue as a teacher, Mrs Gibbons said yes and joked: “I’m looking for a job – I am jobless.”
She said she was now looking forward to spending Christmas with her family.
Mrs Gibbons was speaking just minutes after disembarking at Heathrow airport.
She was embraced by John and Jessica in a VIP lounge at the London airport.
Mrs Gibbons, who was smartly dressed in a blue suit, held hands with John as she took questions from the media.
The family were then driven away by police to an undisclosed location. They are then expected to travel back to Liverpool.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown spoke to Mrs Gibbons on her arrival in Britain.
“He said that he was pleased that she had returned to the UK and wished her well,” a No 10 spokeswoman said.
“He also made clear that the Government stood ready to provide whatever further assistance may be required.”