Frozen Libyan assets could be used to compensate victims of Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terror
IRA victims have been given fresh hope of compensation from Libya after it was revealed the war-torn country has almost £10bn in frozen assets in the UK.
It emerged in Parliament yesterday that the Government is sitting on Libyan belongings worth around £9.5bn - 10 times more than previously thought.
Afterwards Labour MP Jim Fitzpatrick introduced a debate calling for compensation for the victims of the IRA's 1996 Docklands bombing.
Two people were killed when the IRA detonated a massive truck bomb in Canary Wharf, one of the two financial districts of London and part of Mr Fitzpatrick's constituency.
The powerful blast caused an estimated £150m worth of damage and marked the end of a 17-month ceasefire.
It was previously believed that Libyan assets in the UK were worth around £900m, but Secretary to the Treasury Damian Hinds yesterday revealed the total was in fact £9.5bn.
Asked if compensation could be paid to victims of the IRA from this fund, Mr Hinds said an agreement would first need to be secured from the Libyan Government.
Scores of IRA bombs in the 1980s and 1990s - including the Docklands bomb - used Semtex supplied by Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi.
US victims of the Lockerbie bomb were paid compensation by Libya, but a number of UK citizens suing the country have so far received nothing.
It is understood that 155 victims of IRA attacks in the UK are named on a writ demanding compensation from Libya.
In a strange twist, five Americans on this writ have been paid compensation, including victims of the 1983 Harrods bomb. British victims of the same attack have received nothing from Libya.
Protestant victims' campaigner Willie Frazer, who has been leading the action against Libya since 2002, welcomed the disclosure in Parliament.
"I believe that there is a strong possibility that the case can now be won," he said.
"But it must be emphasised this is not about the money, it is the principle, to bring closure for the innocent victims."
One of the names on the writ is Jonathan Ganesh, who was injured at Canary Wharf.
"People who have been terribly injured by Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism desperately need compensation," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"They have been waiting for too long. They cannot wait any longer. There is no reason to wait."
Mr Ganesh added he was "astonished" at the level of Libyan assets in the UK.
He also insisted there was broad political agreement that victims deserved compensation. "We saw today that MPs were able to put political differences aside for the sake of humanity and to fight for victims," he added.
"There is a recognition that our Government must make a principled stand."
A number of unionists have pledged their support to the victims.
DUP MP Nigel Dodds said the debate highlighted the "continuing scandal of the failure by the Blair Government to ensure the Gaddafi regime was made to pay for its crimes" and called it an "enduring hurt for the victims".
"Today's debate is an important signal that this issue will not be forgotten or swept under the carpet and the cross-party efforts and support for the victims will continue," he added.
Ulster Unionist peer Lord Empey said efforts would continue in the search for justice.
"Following the short debate, which was attended by myself and a large number of victims and their relatives, there was a clear feeling that some modest progress had been made," Lord Empey added.
"I have personally been writing to successive Governments regarding these crimes since 2002, and for the first time in a long time I can now see a way forward for the victims.
"Persistent efforts will continue to be made to seek justice for these victims."
East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson called for the issue to be explored further.
"We will continue to work with the legal representatives of victims and other parties to ensure that at long last this gross injustice is put right," he said.