Japan PoWs lose claim for compensation

War torture: Veteran spits his defiance as Tokyo court throws out case after four-year legal proceedings
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The Independent Online
YESTERDAY MORNING, in aroom in a Tokyo skyscraper, a group of dispirited old gentlemen were sitting in front of a group of Japanese reporters, attempting to explain the disappointment they had just suffered. After four years of legal proceedings and hours of emotional testimony, a court had rejected their claim for compensation for the sufferings they had experienced as wartime prisoners of the Japanese Imperial Army.

The old men were weary; the room was hot. Suddenly from the back, a commotion was heard as a figure in a blue blazer parted the knots of cameramen and strode to the front of the press conference. "I have just been round the corner to the front gate of the Japanese Diet," he boomed. "There, I spat upon the doorstep. Twice! There is no justice in this country! No justice! They are lying bastards!"

"That," someone explained to the dumfounded audience, as the vision swept out of the room again, "is Arthur Titherington."

Several tens of thousands of former prisoners of Japan survive in Britain alone. Two of them, and five other former soldiers and civilian internees from Australia, New Zealand and America, have been making the regular pilgrimage to the Tokyo District Court for the case that ended in defeat yesterday. But it is always Mr Titherington who stands out. During each of their visits to Japan, and whenever the issue has come up in Britain, he has come to the fore as the face and conscience of the former PoWs - outspoken, sometimes maudlin, often inappropriate, but equally witty, furious, and implacable.

He was a 20-year-old dispatch rider in the Royal Engineers when Singapore fell to Japan in 1942. "I was injured and the Japanese turfed us out of hospital," he says. "When I stepped outside the first things I saw were a headless body in the square and a woman whose baby was being bayoneted." He spent the rest of the war as a slave labourer in a copper mine in Taiwan. Of the 523 who entered, only 90 men left alive. After the war, like other PoWs, he received the equivalent of pounds 76.50 in compensation.

He is a founder member of the Japan Labour Camp Survivors' Association, and the PoWs' plight is in the public consciousness as never before thanks to Mr Titherington.

His tactic is the face to face confrontation: cabinet ministers, ambassadors, MPs, and journalists in Britain and Japan have been on the receiving end of his harangues. The latest of them was visited upon the astonished Japanese journalists yesterday. "I don't hate you," he boomed (it is true - during his visits he has made several Japanese friends). "I'm not here for revenge, I'm only here for justice. It's up to you: do something about it! Tell the truth!"