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Libya case families in defiant vow: Dithering PM won’t stop fight for justice

By Sam Lister

Campaigners seeking compensation from the Libyan government for victims of IRA terrorism have vowed to keep fighting despite Gordon Brown’s latest U-turn on whether the British authorities should get involved directly.

The Prime Minister yesterday sparked anger and confusion over the Government’s failure to back a class action being taken by victims’ families against Colonel Gadaffi's government for arming the IRA’s campaign of terror.

And he faced fresh demands for an inquiry into British dealings with Libya after Downing Street admitted it would only “facilitate, not negotiate” over compensation for terror victims.

Mr Brown formally announced the creation of a Government unit over the weekend to support victims' families after previously saying it would not be “appropriate” for the Government to push Libya to compensate them.

But hopes of a stronger London involvement were dashed yesterday when officials admitted that diplomats involved would not push the case. The Prime Minister's spokesman said: “This is for the families to take forward the initiative now.”

A cross-party delegation will head to Tripoli to hold face-to-face talks with Libyan government officials, possibly as early next month.

Brown put on the rack over latest about-turn

Gordon Brown faced fresh demands for an inquiry into British dealings with Libya after Downing Street admitted it would only “facilitate, not negotiate” over compensation for terror victims.

In the latest twist on Number 10’s stance on compensation for IRA victims, it argued that “facilitating was the important thing” but its protestations failed to convince campaigners, furious with the Government over its failure to back the class action taken against Colonel Gadaffi's government for bankrolling the republican terror group.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown formally announced the creation of a Government unit over the weekend to support victims' families, sparking accuations of a U-turn on the matter. But the issue took another turn yesterday when officials admitted that the diplomats involved would not push the case.

Instead of leading the fight, they will “facilitate” the families' negotiations with Libya.

The Prime Minister's spokesman said: “It wasn't possible to reach a direct agreement between the UK and Libyan governments.

“When we met the families in December we made it clear we wanted to support them in their new representations to the Libyan authorities.

“What we were doing on Sunday was simply setting out the form of that support.

“It is consistent and in line with what the Prime Minister has said both in the letters and in his discussions.

“This is for the families to take forward the initiative now. The important thing is to help the families. It will be the British Government facilitating, that's the important thing.

“They will be acting in a facilitation role, which is what is needed in a situation like this.

“They (British diplomats) will attend the meetings but they will not negotiate. It is not their brief to negotiate.”

But Lib Dem Foreign spokesman Edward Davey said: “The Prime Minister is still failing to explain why he rejected the idea of the British Government negotiating directly for compensation for the IRA victims' families.

“Everyone will wish the families' legal teams good luck, but Brown's decision to leave this to the courts and not to make this an issue between governments looks hard to justify.

“The Government's whole handling of UK-Libya relations over a period of years has now to be questioned in a wide-ranging Parliamentary inquiry.”

A cross-party delegation will head to Tripoli to hold face-to-face talks with government officials. The visit is expected to take place early next month.

The DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the MPs heading out for the negotiations, said: “We do expect the Prime Minister to make it clear to the Libyan government that he expects this to be resolved.”

Conservative Daniel Kawczynski: “The Foreign Office and the Government should be giving resources, financial and legal assistance to these families and they should be sending out a high-level delegation.

“Gordon Brown himself should be in Libya, lobbying on behalf of these families.”

Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was killed in the 1993 IRA bombing of Warrington, said he would welcome the chance to travel to Libya.

He said: “I would very much have liked the Government to have led the compensation case. If that is not to be, so be it. The campaigners will carry on.”

Meanwhilem, the Government's position over the Lockerbie row descended further into confusion last night after one of Gordon Brown's closest allies said he had not wanted the bomber freed after all.

Secretary Ed Balls made the claim despite Libyan negotiators having apparently been told Mr Brown did not believe Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi should die in prison.

“I have to say that none of us wanted to see the release of al-Megrahi,” Mr Balls told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. “But that wasn't a judgment made by the Government, it was a decision by the Scottish executive.”

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