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Libyan condemns no-charge decision over rendition claims

Published 09/06/2016

Libyan politician Abdul Hakim Belhaj (Picture: Reprieve/PA)
Libyan politician Abdul Hakim Belhaj (Picture: Reprieve/PA)

A man who claims he was forcibly returned to Libya with the help of British authorities said he is disappointed at the news no-one is to be charged following a four-year investigation.

Despite being presented with more than 28,000 pages of evidence by police looking at whether officials in Britain were complicit in the rendition of two families who were unlawfully detained in Libya, the Crown Prosecution Service said there is "insufficient" evidence to charge anyone.

Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi, along with members of their families, were kidnapped and sent to face punishment in Libya in 2004.

Mr Belhadj, a key military figure in the uprising that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi, was living in exile in Beijing, China, but was detained with his wife en route to the UK where they were trying to seek asylum.

He accused former foreign secretary Jack Straw and an ex-senior MI6 officer, Sir Mark Allen, of being responsible for his rendition, alongside his pregnant wife, from Thailand to Libya.

Following the CPS announcement Mr Belhadj told the BBC: "I am very disappointed that individuals responsible will not be prosecuted. If there is political interference with the courts then it undermines British justice."

Sue Hemming, head of the CPS's Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division, said: "Following a thorough investigation, the CPS has decided that there is insufficient evidence to charge the suspect with any criminal offence.

"We made our decision based upon all the available admissible evidence and after weighing up all of the information we have been provided with."

The Metropolitan Police, who had worked on the probe named Operation Lydd since it began in 2012, said a specialist team of detectives had conducted a "thorough and penetrating investigation".

In a statement they said: " A comprehensive file of evidence in excess of 28,000 pages was presented to the CPS on 12 June 2014. Subsequent to that submission a number of additional documents have been provided in response to CPS requests.

"It is entirely a matter for the CPS to decide on whether a case goes forward to prosecution. They have now concluded that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any individual in this matter."

On charges of aiding or abetting kidnap, the CPS found that, as the alleged offences took place abroad, it cannot prosecute in the UK, and it found there was not enough evidence to bring charges in relation to aiding or abetting torture.

It also found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the suspect on the charge of misconduct in public office.

The CPS said there was sufficient evidence to "support the contention" that the suspect under investigation, who was not named, had been "in communication with" people in other countries responsible for the detention of both families.

But it said it "remains unclear" what impact the conduct of the suspect had on the actions of those making decisions abroad.

Mr Belhadj's wife Fatima Boudchar has spoken out about her experiences.

She told the BBC: "My hands and legs were tied and my eyes were covered. They injected me with something. I didn't know where I was going.

"I was six months pregnant. I was so scared that I was going to die."

The Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) is now set to look at the case as part of its wider inquiry into rendition.

Committee chairman Dominic Grieve said: "Following the announcement today by the CPS regarding Operation Lydd I can confirm that the ISC will be examining this case as part of our current inquiry in relation to detainee treatment and rendition.

"I cannot pre-judge the outcome of our investigation: this is a wide-ranging and detailed inquiry and I expect it to continue for some time."

Cori Crider, a lawyer for the two families at human rights organisation Reprieve, said the CPS findings are "official acknowledgement that British officials were involved in this rendition".

Ms Crider said: "There is one crucial question: who knew who was on those planes, and for those who knew, what possible reason can there be for them to evade justice?"

Sonya Sceats, policy and advocacy director at Freedom from Torture, called for David Cameron to hold a judge-led inquiry to reveal "the full truth about British complicity in torture".

Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie, a member of the all party parliamentary group on extraordinary rendition, said it is "crucial" to find out who authorised the renditions.

He said: " Responsibility for this cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks.

"The public need to be assured that the scope and limits of British involvement in kidnap and torture have been fully investigated. They cannot yet have that confidence.

"Failure to get to the truth would almost certainly result in a drip-drip of further revelations. These could tarnish Britain's reputation far more than the shorter term impact of an inquiry - preferably judge led - which gets to the truth."

Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said the findings are "a stain on Britain".

"Today's announcement is significant as it is the first time there has been public confirmation that there was political knowledge of extraordinary rendition, and possibly even political authorisation. Serious questions now need to be asked about who knew of this in government. No prosecution means no excuse for silence.

"Just because the CPS cannot prosecute does not mean that this murky affair is over. The public need to know the truth, and the inquiry that was shelved in 2013 should be reopened.

"The previous Labour government talked about human rights but it is believed have been complicit in the illegal rendition of people. We have to live our values and this whole murky and nasty affair is a stain on Britain."

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