Victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA bombings have heavily criticised the Government for failing to publish a report on its ill-fated efforts to secure compensation from the north African state.
They also reacted angrily to the Government’s continued insistence that it is unable to use billions of pounds of Libyan assets linked to the Gaddafi regime that are frozen in the UK to compensate them.
In a written statement to Parliament, Foreign Office Minister James Cleverly ruled out publishing the report penned by William Shawcross or using the £12 billion of assets to fund a compensation scheme.
Mr Cleverly said the Government would also not fund a specific scheme for compensating those affected by Libyan arms, insisting the responsibility for paying victims lay with the Libyan state.
He said the Government would continue to press the current Libyan authorities on the issue and he highlighted that a wider compensation schemes for those injured in criminal acts were available in the UK, including a new payment scheme for Troubles victims.
Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi armed the IRA with the powerful plastic explosive used in atrocities such as the bombing of Harrods in 1983, the Remembrance Day ceremony in Enniskillen in 1987, Warrington in 1993 and London’s Docklands in 1996.
Those bereaved and injured by the attacks have long been pressing for Government support for their bid for compensation paid out of the £12 billion of assets linked to the toppled Gaddafi regime that were frozen in the UK in 2011 under UN sanction.
Mr Shawcross, a former chairman of the Charity Commission, was appointed by the Foreign Office in 2019 to examine the issue of compensation.
He handed his report to the Government in 2020 but its contents were not publicised.
Mr Cleverly’s statement ruling out future publication came less than 24 hours before Mr Shawcross is due to face questions from MPs on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee about his work.
“Since it was commissioned as an internal scoping report, to provide internal advice to Ministers, and draws on private and confidential conversations held by Mr Shawcross, the Government will not be publishing the report,” said Mr Cleverly.
“These important issues have needed careful and thorough consideration across Government given the complexity and sensitivity of the issues raised.”
He added: “The responsibility for providing compensation specifically for the actions of the Gaddafi regime lies with the Libyan State.
“The Government has therefore repeatedly urged the Libyan authorities, including at the highest levels of the Libyan government, to engage with UK victims and their representatives, and to address their claims for compensation.
“However, there are clear practical difficulties in obtaining compensation from Libya for Gaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism.
“The conflict, political instability and economic instability that have prevailed in Libya for most of the last 10 years since the fall of the Gaddafi regime present particular challenges.”
Mr Cleverly said it would be difficult to define UK victims of Libyan arms, given the “extensive nature of Libyan support for the IRA”.
“The Government’s considered view is that an additional, UK-funded mechanism for providing compensation to victims of the Troubles would not provide accountability for the specific role of the Gaddafi regime in supporting the IRA,” he added.
“Mr Shawcross also considered whether compensation for UK victims should be funded from Libyan frozen assets in the UK.
“Under international law, when assets are frozen, they continue to belong to the designated individual or entity.
“Frozen assets may not be seized by the UK Government.”
Mr Cleverly said the Government was obliged to comply with UN rules requiring that the assets be unfrozen if the sanctions are lifted.
“There is also no legal basis for the UK to refuse the release of frozen assets once conditions for delisting or unfreezing those assets set out in UN Security Council Resolution 2009 of 2011 are met,” he said.
“Therefore, regrettably, the UK has no legal basis to seize frozen Libyan assets or to refuse the release of frozen assets.
“The Government cannot lawfully use Libyan assets frozen in the UK to provide compensation to victims.”
He added: “The UK will continue to press the Libyan authorities to address the Libyan State’s historic responsibility for the Gaddafi regime’s support for the IRA.”
Solicitor Barry O’Donnell, who represents some of the victims, said: “The British government must explain its position on Gaddafi-Libyan sponsored IRA terrorism to relatives of victims and survivors and provide financial compensation from the billions of dollars-worth of Libyan funds frozen by the international community.
“This is what Shawcross was commissioned to investigate and he must be able to explain his findings and recommendations.
“It would appear that today’s Ministerial Statement is another piece of political choreography designed to undermine the authority of NIAC and to frustrate the hopes and expectations of victims and survivors of Gaddafi-Libyan sponsored IRA terrorism.”
A victims’ umbrella group, Innocent Victims United, criticised the ministerial statement.
Spokesman Kenny Donaldson said: “For two years the UK Government has been responsible for heaping further pain upon those already treated so shamefully.
“The Shawcross Report can’t even be described as a ‘whitewash’ because it continues to be held back from victims, the full contents remain hidden”.
DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said the Government had behaved “disgracefully” and let down victims.
“The appalling refusal to publish this report is the wrong approach by the Government and raises more questions than answers,” he said.
“In 2019, it was established that the UK Government had received some £17 million in tax revenue from Libyan assets linked to Colonel Gaddafi, which are frozen in the UK.
“Yet this money which could have been earmarked for victims, now also seems to have been diverted to tackling other financial pressures.”
Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee Simon Hoare said: “This announcement will be a bitter blow to those who have waited so long for recognition and justice and who were urged to put all of their hopes and dreams into Mr Shawcross’s appointment.
He added: “In my opinion this important issue has never been treated with the seriousness and urgency it required.”