`Arms to Iraq' men to be paid pounds 125,000 damages

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THE FOREIGN Office is to pay pounds 125,000 damages to two businessmen wrongly convicted of shipping arms to Iraq, it was announced yesterday. The damages settlement, although made without admission of liability, is the first known payment in a misuse of public office case since 1703.

But two officials who were criticised by Sir Richard Scott after his inquiry into arms sales to Iraq have since been promoted, lawyers for the complainants said. Patrick Nixon is now the High Commissioner to Zambia and the other Carsten Pigott is the deputy High Commissioner in Ethiopia.

Lawyers for the businessmen and others in similar cases also disclosed that Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, Peter Hain, a Foreign Office minister, and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, have issued a total of six Public Interest Immunity Certificates to block disclosure of documents which the complainants say they need to prepare compensation cases.

Reginald Dunk and Alexander Schlesinger of Atlantic Commercial (UK) were charged in 1983 with trying to ship 200 Sterling machine-guns to Iraq. The two men and their company were convicted and ordered to pay a pounds 63,000 in fines and costs.

Mr Dunk and Mr Schlesinger were able to pursue the Foreign Office for damages after receiving more than pounds 2m under a Home Office compensation scheme for miscarriages of justice.

Lawrence Kormornick of the law firm Titmuss, Sainer, Dechert, who represented the men, said they were still bitterly disappointed that they had not received an apology.