60 years on, Malaya 'massacre' by British troops to be investigated

Ministers have bowed to legal action and agreed to reinvestigate the alleged massacre of 24 unarmed villagers by British soldiers in Malaya more than 60 years ago.

The inquiry will focus on secret Whitehall files and startling new testimony from a key witness to the killings. Ministers have written to Tham Yong, 78, one of a handful of survivors of the massacre, confirming that they intend to reconsider a case for a public inquiry after she claimed to have witnessed her fiancé and other villagers being shot in cold blood by a 12-man patrol of Scots Guards during the so called Malayan emergency.

The move follows pioneering legal action begun by Mrs Tham and other Malaysians over Britain's failure to properly investigate the events surrounding the killings. The incident took place on 12 December 1948, six months into a 12-year campaign to crush the largely ethnic Chinese communists, who were trying to drive out British colonialists.

Official accounts describe villagers being killed as they attempted a mass escape into the jungle, having been warned they would be shot if they tried. However, survivors recall victims being led out of their homes and shot in the back. Following the killings, the bodies of many of the dead were mutilated and trophy photos taken, eyewitnesses claimed. Their village was then burned to the ground.

Secret papers uncovered by Mrs Tham's solicitors, Bindmans, now show that the colonial Attorney General who exonerated the British troops of any wrongdoing at the time privately believed that mass public executions might deter other insurgents. A second document reveals that officials the British High Commission in Kuala Lumpur had briefed ministers that there was little point in Scotland Yard officers interviewing eyewitnesses in the 1970s because Malaysian villagers were untrustworthy, motivated by compensation and it was "doubtful" they could recall events 22 years earlier.

Responding to a 30 page letter explaining the basis of Mrs Tham's legal claim, the Government says that it had overturned a previous decision not to hold an inquiry or investigate the deaths: "In light of the matters raised in that letter, the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have decided to reconsider the decision communicated to you in January of this year that no inquiry would be established of other investigation undertaken into the incident at Batang Kali in 1948."

The letter adds: "It is clear from your letter that you have done considerable research into the incident and the evidence now available about it. It would speed up the reconsideration process if you were able to make available to me the material you have collected."

Tham Yong later married the brother of her dead fiancé. He was the only male survivor of the killings.

Batang Kali committee member Quek Ngee Meng said: "There is an absolute urgency on this matter as most of the witnesses may not be able to wait for the justice to be restored. For example, one of the eye witnesses, Wong Kum Sooi, who was 11 at time of killings, passed away on last Friday.

He was the eldest son of Huang Ren and nephew to Huang De-Feng, both of whom were killed by the British Army on 12 December 1948 at Batang Kali. In the circumstances, the Committee urges the Secretaries of State involved to agree to the request of the surviving families for an inquiry consistent with international humanitarian standards."

Mrs Tham is represented by John Halford, a partner at Bindmans solicitors. He commented "Over sixty years on, the underlying reason why 24 unarmed men were killed at Batang Kali is unknown. There has been no apology, much less compensation. The closest thing we have to a meaningful official explanation is the off hand comment by a senior colonial official that an 'honest mistake' was made. The government's response to the threat of a legal challenge to this manifest injustice is a tiny step in the right direction, but what is called for is something rather more decisive and principled. Mrs Tham and others who are directly affected, including the surviving soldiers, are now in limbo because the government's solicitors have suggested a 'few months' will be spent deciding what to do next. We say that basic legal and moral standards demand that an independent inquiry be established immediately."

Mr Halford added that "the confidential government records we have unearthed reveal that when this matter was reported in the 1970s, there was a gulf between the public presentation of the issue and the concerns being expressed behind closed ministry and barrack doors. Officials accepted that the DPP's decision against prosecution might not quell public unease and that an independent inquiry might well be the only way forward, yet this appears to have been given no further consideration.

Disturbingly, efforts were made to dissuade an elite team of British detectives from interviewing to Malaysian eyewitnesses because officials believed they had inherently unreliable memories. These detectives were likewise deprived of the opportunity to interview key witnesses in the UK. The oldest of the files reveal that the very person charged in 1948 with investigating the killings believed that there was something to be said for public executions as a legitimate means to demoralise those involved in the insurgency."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
News
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
arts + entsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker