'Torture' Britons lose bid to sue Saudis

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The Independent Online

A court ruling which gave four men the right to sue foreign officials who allegedly tortured them while they were held in Saudi Arabian jails was overturned by the Law Lords today.

The House of Lords allowed an appeal by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against a Court of Appeal decision in October 2004 allowing the men to sue for damages.

The kingdom had argued that its officials were protected by the State Immunity Act from proceedings brought in this country.

Sandy Mitchell, Les Walker and Bill Sampson were arrested after a series of terrorist bombings in the Saudi capital Riyadh and Khobar in eastern Saudi Arabia six years ago and claimed they were tortured into admitting responsibility.

The fourth man, Ron Jones, was seized after being injured in a bomb blast outside a bookshop.

His treatment by captors, which included being beaten on his hands and feet, being suspended by his arms, deprived of sleep and forcibly fed mind-altering drugs, has been independently confirmed.

All the men were released after an al-Qaida attack in May 2003 by nine suicide bombers in Riyadh which disproved official Saudi claims that the attacks were the result of an alcohol turf war among Westerners.

The Law Lords were told at a hearing in April that it was the first time that the House of Lords had looked at the issue of whether a foreign country could claim state immunity over civil proceedings brought against its officials for damages for personal injuries caused by alleged torture.

The British Government had intervened in the case in support of state immunity, backing the Saudi argument.

The four men were backed by Amnesty International, The Redress Trust, Interights and Justice.

After today's judgment, Bill Sampson said: "I am not surprised because the Lords were having to make an adjudication based upon law that should have been changed years ago but for the hypocrisy of the Government which is quite happy to maintain the state immunity law denying citizens the right to seek redress against states that torture them."

Solicitor Tamsin Allen, who represents Mr Mitchell, Mr Sampson and Mr Walker, said: "The House of Lords have chosen to support the rights of states, including those who torture, over the rights of torture victims.

"Our clients, who were all so severely tortured in a Saudi Arabian prison that they suffered damage to their hearts and permanent debilitating psychiatric damage, have been told that they are not entitled to bring compensation proceedings in the UK against the men who tortured them.

"This blanket ban is a violation of their right to a fair trial and they intend to take the UK to the European Court of Human Rights in the hope and expectation that they will find support there.

"They are gravely disappointed by the UK Government's disgraceful decision to intervene in support of arguments put forward by the Saudi government in the House of Lords."

Ron Jones said: "I am really disappointed in the judgment. We have come to the highest court in the land and we have not received justice.

"The case has been looked at from the point of view of the law and not of justice.

"It is now time for the British Government - which intervened to back the law of state immunity - to intervene on our behalf in order to get us some justice."