Britons face war crime trial

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Two suspected Nazi war criminals living in Britain are understood to have been recommended for trial, according to sources close to the inquiry. The recommendations have been made by legal experts retained by the Director of Public Prosecutions' o ffice.

The sources also defended the Scotland Yard unit against suggestions that it had little to show after spending £5m investigating allegations in 369 cases. They said dozens of others had not been cleared but that prosecutions had only been recommended against those in senior positions.

It is understood that John Nutting, the Treasury Counsel, who is preparing his opinion for the DPP on the strength of seven cases compiled by the police, has made up his mind about two of them. The DPP's office said yesterday it was still waiting for counsel's opinion on all seven cases referred for prosecution by Scotland Yard and expected them within a month.

All seven emigrated to Britain from eastern Europe as refugees from the invading Soviet Union after the Second World War, took British nationality, and have done nothing to bring themselves to the notice of the authorities since.

Recognising the exceptional circumstances of prosecuting old men over events that happened more than 50 years ago, the War Crimes Act, passed in 1991, has a safeguard not normal in criminal prosecutions. Even if Barbara Mills, the DPP, decides to prosecute, the final decision will rest with the Attorney General, Sir Nicholas Lyell.

Scotland Yard issued a statement yesterday in response to controversy sparked by the revelation in the Independent on Tuesday that Home Office funding for the War Crimes unit would end on 31 March, and it would be wound up. Commander Roy Ramm, responsib l e for specialist operations, emphasised there would still be officers and money available to investigate any new cases that came to light, and to continue with prosecutions under way.

David Sumbergh, the vice chairman of the All Party Parliamentary war crimes group said that he thought passing the act had made the moral point that as a nation we were not turning a blind eye to war criminals in our midst.