PoWs lose fight for war damages

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The Independent Online
BRITISH PRISONERS held by the Japanese during the Second World War lost their long-running case for compensation in a Tokyo court this morning. In a move that will embarrass the British Government, they are now threatening to continue their battle in the UK courts.

The former prisoners of war and civilian internees reacted despondently to the decision by the Tokyo District Court rejecting their demands for an apology and compensation of $22,000 (pounds 13,500) from the Japanese government.

"They never contested what happened to us," said Arthur Titherington, 76, who spent three years in a Japanese copper mine where fewer than one- fifth of prisoners survived. "They never said we weren't tortured and beaten and abused. It can only be a political decision."

"This was a strong case in law, and if it had been pursued in any other court in the world, I have little doubt that we would have won," said Martyn Day, the group's lawyer, who was acting on behalf of 25,000 other former Allied PoWs and civilian internees. "I'm bitterly disappointed, and justice has not yet been done."

He said that the group might appeal the decision in Japan. "But there is an increasing mood of anger against the British Government, and a feeling that we are banging our heads against a brick wall here in Japan," said Mr Day, whose firm has agreed to forfeit its pounds 500,000 costs in the event of defeat. "We're coming to the view that much of the blame for the failure to gain justice for the PoWs and internees lies at the door of the British Government."

Japan has never disputed the PoWs' claims of brutality, but both the Japanese and British governments insist that issues of compensation were settled once and for all in the San Francisco Treaty of 1952 which exempted Japan from further reparations. At the time former British PoWs each received pounds 76.50 for their sufferings in captivity.

The PoWs have always claimed that the British attitude is a reflection of political expedience and the desire to avoid offending Japan as a valuable trading partner and investor. But now they believe that they have found a loophole in the treaty which places the responsibility for claiming compensation with the Government.

A clause in the San Francisco Treaty said Britain was entitled to claim more compensation if Japan should later come to a more generous settlement with another country - as it did with a number of countries, including Burma and Switzerland during the 1950s.

Recently, Keith Martin, a former civilian internee and a plaintiff in the case, discovered in the Public Records Office a confidential Foreign Office correspondence dating from 1955 which noted this possibility but ruled out any further claims "on general grounds of foreign relations, despite the possibility of domestic political embarrassment in connection with Allied prisoners of war".

"We met Tony Blair in the summer and he assured us that he has the political will to pursue this case if it is within the Government's legal power," said Mr Day. "We're very clear that there is a case. We are waiting to hear from the Government and if they do not give us a satisfactory answer, then we will look at pursuing this in the British courts."

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