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MPs and charities seek torture inquiry

Britain's role in the torture of terror suspects must be investigated at a public inquiry headed by a judge, MPs and human rights groups said today.

In a letter to The Independent, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition and four human rights groups make the case for a full independent investigation into growing allegations of the secret services involvement in the abuse of detainees.

The call follows a series of damaging cases brought against the UK Government in which agents from MI5 and MI6 have been accused of complicity in torture. It includes a number of high-profile court cases – most notably that of former Guantanamo Bay detainee Binyam Mohamed – that claimed MI5 officers were complicit in the mistreatment of detainees by foreign agents, including those of the US and Pakistan.

The letter calls for an independent enquiry that will examine how British "territory and airspace" is used as well as the precise involvement of British intelligence agencies and the armed forces in cases involving the treatment of detainees abroad.

It asks for evidence to be chaired by an independent judge, with as much evidence as possible made public to achieve "maximum possible disclosure".

The letter is likely to intensify pressure on Gordon Brown who is facing growing criticism over his refusal to publish new guidelines for British intelligence officers when interrogating prisoners in foreign custody.

Mr Brown had originally told a committee that new guidelines would be formulated and come before a Commons debate last Thursday. But that decision was subsequently postponed after intervention by the intelligence and security committee, meaning that any decision on revised guidelines are unlikely to be published until after the general election. It was further heightened by a Foreign Office report last week that said Britain had to continue to work with foreign security agencies against terrorism even if they do not share UK standards on human rights.

Led by Andrew Tyrie, Conservative MP for Chichester, the call for a public enquiry was backed by the Liberal Democrats and human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Liberty and Reprieve. Mr Tyrie said: "Every time a new revelation emerges, it is damaging for public confidence in the Security Services and for the reputation of the UK.

He added: "We must be sure we have got to the truth to be able to move on. A short, judge-led inquiry would be quicker, cheaper and far more effective in restoring the public's trust than allowing this corrosive state of affairs to continue. It is a mistake to imagine that this issue will go away on its own."