Cyprus fighters sue Britain for torture during uprising

Those who fought colonial rule in the late 1950s allege they were abused by the British

Britain is facing fresh legal action from victims of alleged abuse and mistreatment by UK security forces during the fight against colonial rule in Cyprus between 1955 and 1959. Scores of veterans from the Eoka insurgency are pressing ahead with claims that they were subject to brutal treatment and are seeking an apology and damages from the British government. The move follows an earlier High Court decision to allow Kenyans to sue Britain over torture during the Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s.

Vasos Sophocleous, president of Eoka Fighters' Federation, the group bringing the action, says he still suffers from the abuse he says he received at the hands of the British. "I was tortured 10 or 15 times over 17 days, all types of torture, of the body, of the mind, everything. I cannot describe them; it's not easy for me to speak about them. I still suffer. I feel pain in my back. I feel pain in my knees. I still cannot hear out of my left ear. If there is, and I believe that there is, a real democratic court, then I'm very hopeful that we will win because I believe the court will do their duty. They have admitted already, 40 or 50 years later, that they tortured people in Cyprus."

Petros Patrides, a businessman, was a 15-year-old schoolboy when he was detained by the British hunting the Eoka leader Georgios Grivas. Mr Patrides says he was waterboarded by his interrogators who were British Special Branch officers. "They tied me on a bed, spread-eagled and naked, and rubbed pepper into my lips and eyelids, and my private parts. They would put a piece of cloth over your nose and mouth and dip water on to it and you would feel like you were drowning. Just before you passed out they would stop and take the cloth off. And then they would start again."

Mr Patrides, who was born in Lincoln and whose father served as a British Army officer during the Second World War, says he has not yet decided whether to sue but wanted an apology. "We all know how polite and proper the British are, but what the British did was wrong and it is payback time and they should say sorry for what they did."

Victims and lawyers said that fresh evidence of abuse is emerging from now declassified British government files as well as a Red Cross investigation into abuse allegations in 1957. Cyprus gained independence in 1960 when Archbishop Makarios was elected president.

Birmingham-based solicitor Kevin Conroy, who is acting for several Eoka fighters, said: "What you've got here is an insurrection that took place in the 1950s and the people were detained. I'm not talking about people who were convicted: two detention camps were set up, like the internment in Northern Ireland in 1971. That is what was happening in Cyprus. People were being detained on suspicion of being members of Eoka, not convicted. I'm no apologist for Eoka – far from it, it was horrible – but while people are in custody, there's a rule of law. If you're tortured or assaulted while in custody, regardless of who you are or what you've done, that's wrong."

Martyn Day, a solicitor who is also acting in the Mau Mau case, said: "It's entirely depressing to look at what happened in Kenya and Cyprus. It's very strong evidence of systemic abuse carried out at the behest of the British government. There are about 600 potential cases in Cyprus, but it's still early days and we're working through them all so we can put forward the strongest case possible. No case is copper-bottomed and no case is total rubbish. Every case has a chance."

Allegations of widespread torture and prisoner abuse by Britain are documented in a new book, Cruel Britannia: A Secret History of Torture. Its author, Ian Cobain, said: "In Cyprus, the British exposed the depth of their ignorance of their adversaries when they resorted to torture. We British have resorted to torture not boastfully, not routinely and rarely with obvious relish. But we have been ready to resort to torture when we have come to believe that the country's situation was desperate, when one prized colonial possession after another was being lost.

"We have shown ourselves to be remarkably reluctant to abandon the calculated use of brutal force and pain when questioning our enemies. One important reason why these crimes have been committed with impunity over the years is that the British public tends not to believe what is happening and the British media is reluctant to make them any the wiser. On the isles of fair play, it is assumed, the use of torture cannot be possible, because it is unthinkable."

A history of abuse

Malaya On 12 December 1948, 24 Malayan villagers were killed by a unit of the Scots Guards in the Batang Kali massacre. Relatives of the victims are pursing legal action against the British government.

Kenya The Mau Mau uprising was a rebellion against British colonial rule in Kenya between 1952 and 1960. In July 2011, surviving members of the rebellion were granted permission to sue the British Government over alleged human rights abuses perpetrated during the uprising's suppression.

Yemen The Aden Emergency was an uprising against British colonial rule of the port town. It began in 1963 and continued until British withdrawal in 1967. Some commentators have said that survivors who were British prisoners during the rebellion could bring cases for the abuse they allege they suffered.

Sam Creighton