Police launch probe over torture allegations in Libya

 

British spies accused of helping in the rendition and torture of two Libyan rebels will be investigated by police, officials said today.

Scotland Yard launched the criminal inquiry after saying the allegations were so serious that they must be investigated immediately and could not wait for an official inquiry into British complicity in torture.

Lawyers for the two Libyans, who are planning legal action against the Government, called for their claims to be investigated "promptly and comprehensively".

Sami al Saadi, an opponent of Muammar Gaddafi's regime, and Abdel Hakim Belhadj, one of the leaders of anti-Gaddafi forces, allege British spies were complicit in their rendition and ill-treatment in 2004.

Mr Belhadj, 45, a Libyan rebel commander living in exile in Beijing, says he was tortured after being detained with his wife in 2004 en route to the UK where they were trying to seek asylum.

Also known as Abu Abd Allah Sadiq, Mr Belhadj was held for six years in prisons in Libya, and claims he was interrogated by "foreign" agents, including some from the UK.

His wife was also imprisoned in Libya for four months, then released just before she gave birth, they say.

Lawyers claim evidence of the UK's role in the couple's rendition is detailed in a number of documents held by the Libyan security services, which came to light after the fall of the Gaddafi regime.

One is a thought to be a letter from Sir Mark Allen, former director of counter-terrorism at MI6, to Moussa Koussa, head of Gaddafi's intelligence agency, dated March 18 2004, according to claims made by the lawyers.

In it, Sir Mark is said to pass on thanks for helping to arrange Tony Blair's visit to Gaddafi, writing: "Most importantly, I congratulate you on the safe arrival of Abu Abd Allah Sadiq.

"This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years."

Mr al Saadi, also known as Abu Munthir, has made similar claims, saying he was stopped along with his wife and four young children when he was flying to the UK from his home in Hong Kong in 2004 and taken to Tripoli.

The 45-year-old, who was a member of LIFG (Libyan Islamic Fighting Group) which was fiercely opposed to Gaddafi, said that after the tyrant's overthrow documents were discovered showing British personnel were instrumental in his detention and rendition.

Solicitors Leigh Day & Co, representing both men, said: "Our clients and their families' lives have been irreversibly affected by the crimes committed against them by the Gaddafi regime.

"There is substantial evidence of collusion in torture by British security services with the knowledge and express approval of UK ministers. These serious allegations of crime must now be investigated promptly and comprehensively."

The latest allegations are "so serious that it is in the public interest for them to be investigated now" rather than at the end of the planned inquiry by Sir Peter Gibson into similar claims, the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC and Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens said.

It came as police and prosecutors announced that no charges would be brought against British spies over their alleged complicity in the torture of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed or another individual held at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Mr Mohamed, who was held in Pakistan between about April and July 2002 and elsewhere between about July 2002 and early 2004, said he had not expected any charges to be brought against the MI5 officer involved in his case.

But he added that any wider criminal investigation would show a "pattern of massive complicity by UK bodies in criminality at the highest levels".

Mr Starmer said that while evidence showed that British security services provided information and questions to the US, there was not enough evidence to prove they did it while they "knew or ought to have known that there was a real or serious risk that Mr Mohamed would be exposed to ill-treatment amounting to torture".

In the second case at Bagram Air Base in January 2002, which was referred by MI6 itself, police and prosecutors were unable to speak to the detainee or possible witnesses, who were not British officials, leaving them with insufficient evidence to bring charges, Mr Starmer said.

MI6 chief Sir John Sawers said the move "allows the courageous individual at the centre of the investigation to continue his work in support of national security".

He added that it was in MI6's interest to deal with the new allegations "as swiftly as possible so we can draw a line under them and focus on the crucial work we now face in the future".

Foreign Secretary William Hague has also stressed the Government's desire to "draw a line" under the allegations, but the latest investigation will delay the possibility of that happening.

Human rights groups and campaigners said the lack of charges made the need for an inquiry greater than ever.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said the Government "condemns torture and inhumane treatment" and will never support it or ask others to do it.

Referring to the latest claims, he added: "The Government and the security services will give complete and full cooperation to those investigations so that the police can get to the bottom of them as well."

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
news
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Arts and Entertainment
(L-R) Amanda Peet as Tina Morris, Melanie Lynskey as Michelle Pierson, Abby Ryder Fortson as Sophie Pierson, Mark Duplass as Brett Pierson and Steve Zissis as Alex Pappas in Togetherness
TV First US networks like HBO shook up drama - now it's comedy's turn
News
i100
Travel
Pool with a view: the mMarina Bay Sands in Singapore
travel From Haiti and Alaska to Namibia and Iceland
News
The will of Helen Beatrix Heelis, better known as Beatrix Potter, was among those to be archived
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
News
Nigel Farage: 'I don't know anybody in politics as poor as we are'
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect