Britain set to hold first war crimes trial

Man living in Surrey accused of mass murders of Polish Jews is among those to be prosecuted

BY STEPHEN WARD

Legal Affairs Correspondent

Britain's first war crimes trial is to go ahead at the Old Bailey early next year, with a man in his eighties charged with mass murders committed more than half a century ago in Eastern Europe.

Prosecution witnesses living overseas have been visited in the past week by British police and lawyers, who have told them of the decision to proceed with the case, and to be available to give evidence from February.

Under the special terms of the war crimes legislation, Sir Nicholas Lyell, the Attorney General, has to approve prosecutions. He is understood to be satisfied with the case and, once final checks have been made, is expected to give the formal go-ahead for the trial within a month.

All the accused will be given legal aid so they can mount a no-expense- spared defence. This is to prevent any suggestion that, with millions of pounds spent on investigations to gather evidence, they will not be given the chance of a fair trial.

Lawyers at the Crown Prosecution Service, which has for several months been weighing up the seven cases produced by Scotland Yard's War Crimes Unit, have told Sir Nicholas that the case of a retired man living in Surrey is likely to result in a conviction.

The case is considered by the sources close to the investigation to be the strongest sent to the CPS at the end of four years of investigations around the world into the war records of suspected war criminals.

A Pole who came to Britain after the war and is now a UK citizen, the man is accused of being in charge of a battalion which carried out mass executions of civilians, mainly Jews, in ghettoes around the town of Mir, 100 miles from the Belorussian capital of Minsk.

It is claimed that when the battalion invaded the Mir region in 1941, more than 4,000 Jews lived there. Four years later, only 30 had survived.

Survivors in the Belorussian village of Kryniczno have given statements to police about the alleged atrocities. Other survivors prepared to testify in court now live in Israel and Britain.

One key witness is a half-Jewish officer who served alongside the accused, who has since become a Carmelite monk. He maintains that the man presided over torture and murder while he was in command of more than 500 paramilitary policemen.

Members of the Scotland Yard police unit of nine detectives, two historians, two constables and five civilian support staff visited Russia, the Bal- kans, the Baltic States, Ukraine, Latvia, Germany, Poland, Israel, America, Canada and South Africa during the investigation. More than 300 cases were reviewed, with more than 250 people cleared.

Many suspects have died in the past five years. Britain realised that it might be harbouring war criminals only in 1986, when a list of 17 suspects was handed to Douglas Hurd, the then Home Secretary, by the Nazi-hunting Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles. The list grew to more than 100, of whom 30 were still under active investigation by Scotland Yard a year ago.

The suspects, now British citizens in their seventies and eighties, all came to Britain in the aftermath of the war amid a tide of innocent refugees from countries occupied firstly by Germany during the early stages of the war and then by the Soviet Union. For almost 50 years, their war records went unquestioned. More than 200,000 East Europeans settled in the UK in the years after the Second World War.

In 1991, Parliament passed the War Crimes Act to make it possible to prosecute such people in British courts. They were not previously liable for prosecution in Britain because the alleged crimes took place on foreign soil, when they were not British citizens.

The Government felt at the time that it would not be appropriate to deport them to face trial behind what was then the Iron Curtain, to countries which still imposed the death penalty.

The War Crimes Act set up investigating units in England and Wales, and Scotland. Despite spending pounds 766,000 investigating and interviewing potential witnesses in more than 10 countries, the Scottish unit had to concede earlier this year that it could not gather a case which would hold water in court. The unit was finally wound up last year.

Two Commonwealth countries, Canada and Australia, set up similar war crimes units, but although there were trials held, there have been no successful prosecutions.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements