News from UK: Express.co.uk
(Sunday 7 November 2010) TAXPAYERS could be forced to shell out millions of pounds to Malaysian families who claim Scots Guards soldiers murdered their relatives in a jungle massacre more than 60 years ago.
Lawyers are preparing to launch legal action against the UK Government by the end of the month unless ministers agree to set up a public inquiry into the incident.
A new probe into the shooting of 24 unarmed men at a remote village called Batang Kali in 1948 would be hugely expensive and could trigger massive compensation payments.
The Army has always said the suspected insurgents were attempting to escape from custody, although this has been disputed by eyewitnesses and even some of the guardsmen themselves.
None of the villagers who survived Batang Kali are still alive, however, following the recent death of 78-year-old woman Tham Fong. But London-based law firm Bindmans is now acting on behalf of their children and other relatives.
Partner Stephen Grosz, a human rights expert, told the Sunday Express: “We have established there wasn’t any law that enabled these soldiers to shoot these people whatever they were doing. We want the Government to set up a public inquiry and make reparation.
“If they fail to do so, we will launch a Judicial Review of that decision in the High Court. We are not suggesting anybody should be prosecuted or that there should be a criminal investigation against the soldiers. The goal is to get closure for the families of the victims. The British Army should be setting standards of rectitude and propriety and if they have done something wrong that should be admitted. Normal international law states there is a duty to make reparation and that can take a number of forms, including compensation.”
He added: “They are looking for the truth, it is not at this moment primarily an exercise in compensation seeking.”
Campaigners in Malaysia are also calling for an official apology from Prime Minister David Cameron, similar to the one he offered following the Bloody Sunday Inquiry. At the time, the news that so many “bandits” had been gunned down was greeted with jubilant newspaper headlines in Malaya and in Britain. An investigation by Scotland Yard found no evidence of wrongdoing.
But, in 1970, five of the soldiers came forward to admit they had shot the men in cold blood on the orders of their patrol leader, a 22-year-old sergeant. Despite a national outcry, the Government of the day refused to open a public inquiry and the issue was eventually dropped.
Yesterday, Mr Grosz said his team had been given access to top secret documents suggesting the orders actually came from higher up the chain of command. He said: “Certainly there appears to have been a briefing given to the two sergeants who led the patrol from a commanding officer before they went out. There is a dispute about what the content of that briefing was but the evidence suggests that they were carrying out instructions.”
Furthermore, said Mr Grosz, even if the official version of events was correct, there was no legal basis for the soldiers’ actions as the “shout before you shoot” regulations were not passed until the following month. “The extent to which the authorities tried to legalise it retrospectively we found absolutely shocking,” he said.
Mr Grosz added that his team had spoken to some of the surviving guardsmen, now in their 80s, but none wanted to give a new statement. Last night, Tory backbench MP Patrick Mercer said: “A Scotland Yard inquiry was held and that exonerated the Scots Guardsmen. If there are no witnesses alive on the Malaysian side then I think the appellants are going to have a difficult time proving their case. That doesn’t mean there is no case to answer but I do wonder about the slightly grubby aspect of compensation being sought by individuals who were not there.”
Lieutenant Colonel Tex Pemberton, chairman of the National Malaya and Borneo Association, said: “I would be surprised if the investigation at the time was not carried out properly.”
The Foreign Office and the MoD both said they were planning to respond to the calls for a public inquiry by the end of the month.
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