Gulf war hostages sue Government: BA flight 'allowed to land after invasion'

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The Independent Online
THE Foreign Office is being sued for negligence by passengers aboard a British Airways flight which landed in Kuwait City just after the start of the Iraqi invasion.

The High Court action is a test case which directly challenges government claims that it could not have stopped the aircraft landing. John Major has said that the flight landed before he had 'clear evidence of a full-scale Iraqi invasion'.

More than 300 passengers aboard BA149 were held hostage by Saddam Hussein and stayed prisoner for up to 19 weeks as part of his 'human shield' against Allied bombing raids.

Writs were issued against the Foreign Office and other government departments, including the Department of Transport, last Monday by four child and three adult passengers aboard the aircraft who are seeking pounds 50,000 compensation each. They claim that they suffered personal injuries due to negligence and breach of duty by the British authorities. The Foreign Office said last night that the writs would be 'studied carefully' when they were received.

One of those seeking damages, David Fort, an engineer en route to India to work on an oil rig, said yesterday: 'I have been out of work ever since and have an injury to my leg caused when one of the guards hit me down the stairs. We are the unfortunates.'

The others include John Chappell, 18, and his sister Jennifer, 16. Their mother, Maureen, said: 'We were going to Madras and stopped to refuel. We were held in the airport hotel and then taken to one of the oilfields. There was no fresh food - they once brought eight tiny chickens to feed 40 of us. We had to scavenge.'

She said the experience had left permanent scars on her and her children. 'But we should never have landed - the Government knew about the build-up (of Iraqi troops) before.'

Geraldine McCool, of solicitors Pannone Napier, said she could not discuss in detail the grounds for the claims. Two years ago, Mr Major absolved the Government of responsibility on the grounds that the flight landed before the fighting started. His comments followed similar statements by Baroness Thatcher, when Prime Minister.

It has since emerged that Kuwaiti fighters were engaged above the capital when the aircraft landed. The former Kuwaiti ambassador to London has said that he knew the invasion started before the flight landed. He claims he tried to alert the Foreign Office but was told that officials had been kept informed by the British envoy in Kuwait.

British Airways, already being sued by passengers in Britain, France and the US, has said the flight recorder, which may have held clues, was destroyed by Iraqi troops. BA denies any liability.

American intelligence was aware the invasion had started three hours before the flight landed. Royal Navy ships were also in the Persian Gulf monitoring Iraqi military movements. It has been alleged that the aircraft had members of the Special Air Service on board and British military personnel may have been in the control tower when it landed.