Loh Ah Choi (L), Chang Koon Ying (C) and Lim Ah Yin (R), relatives of unarmed Malaysian rubber plantation workers killed in Batang Kali in 1948 arrive at the high court. Photograph: Kerim Okten/EPA
Scots Guards soldiers admitted unlawfully shooting dead 24 Malaysian villagers then covering up the massacre, the high court has been told.
Calling for an official inquiry into the mass killing during anti-insurgency operations in 1948, lawyers for relatives of the victims disclosed for the first time the soldiers’ accounts given during police interviews.
The statements were taken in 1970, when the then Labour government ordered an investigation into the deaths.
Six of the eight soldiers interviewed under caution by detectives corroborated accounts that the villagers had been unlawfully killed, Michael Fordham QC, counsel for the Malaysian relatives, told the court.
One member of the Scots Guards platoon, Alan Tuppen, maintained that a sergeant had said beforehand: “The (villagers) were going to be shot and we could fall in or fall out.”
William Cootes, another soldier, told detectives he saw as another sergeant “motioned to (a) youth to run and then he shot him”.
George Kydd, also a member of the Scots Guards patrol, recalled in 1970 that: “The bandits were then shot but I’m sorry I must tell you the truth, they were not running away.
“There was an inquiry later on and I’ve got to go along with this, we were told before going in to tell the same story, that is that the bandits were running away when they were shot … I don’t remember who told us to tell this story but it was a member of the army.”
The police investigation was launched after a newspaper carried some of the soldiers’ accounts of what had happened 22 years earlier.
The probe was abruptly cancelled, however, in June 1970 after the Conservatives won the general election.
An internal police report by Detective Chief Superintendent Frank Williams, who led the police investigation, contradicted official explanations that there was insufficient evidence.
His report, disclosed to the high court, said: “At the outset this matter was politically flavoured and it is patently clear that the decision to terminate enquiries in the middle of the investigation was due to a political change of view when the new Conservative government came into office after the general election.”
Relatives of those killed in Batang Kali, who have twice petitioned the Queen, are challenging the government’s continued refusal to hold an inquiry into the incident.
Judicial review of the decision will continue until Wednesday.
Judgment is expected to be reserved.
The Ministry of Defence and Foreign Office maintain that it is too late for lessons to be learned from any inquiry and that most of the witnesses are no longer alive.