Unbowed after six decades, the elderly descendants of 24 Malaysian plantation workers killed by British soldiers insisted they would fight on despite being refused a public investigation yet again today.
As the High Court blocked their attempts to force a public inquiry into what they insist was the massacre of innocents at Batang Kali, Malaya, in December 1948, the victim’s relatives – young children when the men of the village were killed – said they would be seeking permission to appeal.
The High Court hearing had nevertheless exposed “decades of Government-sanctioned deceit”, they insisted, and lifted the stigma attached to the dead by rejecting the official version of events.
“Though the court also found the Government did not need to hold an inquiry on technical grounds, the fact is that the Scots Guards shot innocent civilians, my father included. That truth demands that there be a meaningful apology to me and all those who lost their fathers and breadwinners,” said Lim Kok, 73, whose father Lim Tian Shui was found beheaded.
The events happened during the Malayan Emergency, when British troops were sent to combat a communist insurgency. On the 11 December 1948, a patrol from the 2nd Battalion, the Scots Guards, mostly national servicemen with limited training and led by a 22-year-old Lance Sergeant, were deployed to Batang Kali a village on a rubber plantation. Having pursued but lost two uniformed insurgents, the soldiers shot a young man called Loh Kit Lin.
The villagers were then detained and interrogated, the High Court heard. “There were simulated executions to frighten them, causing trauma,“ said judges in their ruling. ”The police officers secured information from one of the males, Cheung Hung, about armed insurgents who occasionally visited the village to obtain food supplies. This information was passed to the patrol.“
The next day women and children along with one traumatised man were driven away while the men were held. ”The hut with 23 men was unlocked. Within minutes all of the 23 men were dead as a result of being shot by the patrol,“ added judges. ”The inhabitants' huts were then burned down and the patrol returned to its base.“
It was claimed that the dead had been trying to escape, though two decades later five patrol members confessed to deliberate execution during an subsequently abandoned police investigation.
Despite a tireless battle by survivors and descendants, both Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond opposed the relatives' application for an inquiry and yesterday the judges refused to overturn the decision, insisting it was “not unreasonable”.
Sir John Thomas - president of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court, said it was ”very questionable“ whether ”much can be learnt“.
”There are obviously enormous difficulties in conducting an inquiry into a matter that happened over 63 years ago. Most of the contemporary documents are missing and most of those who were engaged are dead,” he said, adding: “All in all, it would appear to be very difficult at this point in time to establish definitively whether the men were shot trying to escape or whether these were deliberate executions.
“Nor, in our view, would it be any easier to determine whether the use of force was reasonable or proportionate.”
John Halford, of solicitors, Bindmans, said: “We will be seeking permission to appeal against the court’s judgement. As matters stand, the questions they have asked have not been fully answered. There has been no movement by the Government to address on-going injustices at the heart of the case.”