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William Hague in row over rescue team fiasco

By Cahal Milmo

A damaging row broke out between the Foreign Secretary, William Hague and a leading rescue charity yesterday after a team of British experts was forced to abandon its mission to Japan over an alleged failure by diplomats to provide the necessary paperwork.

The International Rescue Corps (IRC), which has more than 30 years of experience dealing with natural disasters around the world, accused the Foreign Office (FCO) of “deplorable” conduct after Mr Hague said the charity was seeking to scapegoat British officials and had arrived in Japan early on Tuesday without sufficient back-up or resources to carry out its humanitarian relief operation.

The British team arrived back in London last night claiming that officials at the UK embassy in Tokyo failed to provide in time a “note verbale” — a letter confirming that IRC was a recognised charity.

The document had been requested by the Japanese authorities to issue an emergency permit allowing the 12-strong team to enter the disaster zone and to purchase rationed supplies such as petrol.

After high-level contacts between senior IRC officials and the Government, the letter was eventually provided by the Tokyo embassy early yesterday — more than 30 hours after the UK experts had arrived in Japan and, crucially according to IRC, after the British Airways flight carrying the team home had taken off.

The IRC volunteers were to have been the second British emergency team operating in the region devastated by the earthquake and tsunami.

A 65-strong official UK government search-and-rescue team, sent by the Department for International Development, was continuing its work searching the town of Kamaishi, where 1,000 people are missing.

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