War prisoners fight for pounds 300m compensation

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A BRITISH lawyer will fly to Japan today to begin a battle to win pounds 300m compensation for 25,000 British and Allied prisoners who suffered appalling treatment during the Second World War.

Claims against the Japanese government for almost pounds 13,500 for each prisoner of war and civilian internee will be lodged at the Tokyo District Court within two weeks by Martyn Day, reopening the controversy over war crimes.

The former prisoners have decided to press ahead with claims for personal injury after rejecting a scheme to set up a foundation with voluntary contributions from Japanese companies, many of which used them as slave labour during the war. It would pay money to needy former prisoners. But organisations representing those held argue that compensation should be a matter of right.

Mr Day said: 'It is disappointing that the Japanese government has not accepted its responsibilities by compensating the prisoners of war. They are left with no alternative but to sue.'

He is acting on behalf of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, which represents 13,000 former British prisoners of war, and the Association of British Civilian Internees Far East Region, which has 1,500 members. Compensation is also being claimed by former prisoners from the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as by widows of some of the thousands of men who died.

The Japanese insist that the question of compensation was settled by the 1951 San Fransisco peace treaty which paid prisoners who survived pounds 76. After talks with John Major last year they offered an apology but no extra money.

Sid Tavender, vice-chairman of the Japanese Labour Camp Survivors Association, who worked on the Burma railway, said: 'We did not sue the Japanese years ago because then they were broke but now they can afford to pay. All the other countries have paid their debts from the war, even the US compensated Japanese Americans they interned. But it was only last year that we even got an apology from Japan.'

The figure of dollars 20,000 (almost pounds 13,500) per person being claimed is based on the compensation paid to the Japanese Americans who were locked up by their own government because they were regarded as potentially disloyal.

Mr Day's first task in Tokyo will be to discuss the case with Japanese lawyers who will represent the ex-prisoners. It is expected that a contingency fee giving them 10 per cent of any compensation will be negotiated.