Human rights activists have demanded a fresh police investigation into allegations that a Bahraini prince was involved in torture after prosecutors admitted they had wrongly granted him immunity.
The Crown Prosecution Service ruled two years ago that a complaint against Prince Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, a son of the Gulf state’s king, that he beat prisoners arrested during democracy protests could not be pursued because of his royal status and position as a senior military commander.
But the High Court in London was told on Tuesday that prosecutors had abandoned that position, prompting lawyers acting for a Bahraini refugee seeking the prince’s arrest and campaigners to call for Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command to re-consider the case.
Prince Nasser, a Sandhurst graduate and keen equestrian who is a regular visitor to Britain, has strongly denied the allegations. The Bahraini government described the proceedings as “politically motivated”, adding that it believed there was insufficient evidence to sustain an investigation.
The CPS described the ruling as “academic” because when police originally considered the case there had been a “number of reasons” why it could not be pursued and the issue of immunity had not been one of them.
Lawyers bringing the case, who argued that the original decision made on behalf of Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders was “erroneous in law”, said the ruling would allow them to present new evidence to police concerning the claims.
The case was brought by a UK-based former detainee, known only as FF, who was arrested during Bahrain’s bloody democracy protests in 2011 and alleged that Prince Nasser directly participated in torture of two political prisoners in April that year.
Tom Hickman, representing FF, told the court: “As far as the claimant is concerned, the DPP’s position represents a long overdue recognition that Prince Nasser does not benefit from immunity for acts of torture in proceedings in the United Kingdom.”
He added: “We say that the decision clears the way for an investigation of the prince and consent for an arrest warrant to be sought. There is evidence that will be submitted to the police in due course.”
FF, who claims he was beaten and detained without charge, said: “Now the prince has lost his immunity, he will need to consider the risk of investigation, arrest and prosecution when he is travelling outside Bahrain.”
Torture carried out by a public official anywhere in the world is an offence in Britain under the provisions of the 1988 Criminal Justice Act, making it possible to try allegations of maltreatment committed abroad in the English courts.
Britain has close historic links to Bahrain with members of the Al Khalifa ruling family regular visitors to Britain. The Government this year classified the island as a “priority market” for arms sales.
Prosecutors insisted that immunity had not been a bar to any prosecution and said an original scoping investigation by the Yard, carried out around the time the prince was in London for the 2012 Olympics, had shown the allegations could not be pursued.
Deborah Walsh, deputy head of the special crime at the CPS, said the Yard had “previously said that it would not undertake an investigation in relation to this matter for a number of reasons; the possibility of immunity was not one”.
The Bahraini authorities said there had been “an absence of evidence” against the prince and pointed out that it had never sought sovereign immunity over the case.
In a statement, the Bahraini government said: “This has been an ill-targeted, politically motivated and opportunistic attempt to misuse the British legal system. The government of Bahrain again categorically denies the allegations against Sheikh Nasser.”
A report by an independent commission established by Bahrain’s king found that detainees arrested during the 2011 uprising were subjected to torture or physical abuse and there had been a “culture of impunity” among security officials.
Sue Willman, the solicitor representing FF, said: “The UK has a duty to investigate, arrest and prosecute those who are alleged to have committed acts of torture abroad. They should be applied to all, regardless of the UK’s economic interests for this regime.”