When Britons were the torturers

Click to follow
SECRET FOREIGN Office documents graphically recording events in the Yemen 30 years ago, have just been released at the Public Record Office, and provide a powerful echo of the current strife in that country. Political turmoil, terrorist action, shoot-outs, kidnapping and allegations of torture by the police are recorded, then as now. The only difference is that the British were still ruling Aden - now part of Yemen. Then it was the British that were being accused of torturing detainees.

These were the last days of Britain's rule in Aden which gained independence in November 1967. Britain was trying to hand power over to a pro-British faction but other nationalist groups were mounting a successful campaign of terror.

The British-run security forces were accused of torturing people suspected of belonging to the National Liberation Front (NLF). In the first six months of 1967 alone, there were 150 allegations of brutality from Arab detainees.

Amnesty International took up the charges and in February 1967 the organisation's chairman visited the Foreign Office minister George Thomson in Whitehall. The High Commissioner in Aden, Sir Richard Turnbull, wrote to the Foreign Office: "The element of exaggeration and pure fabrication, coupled with the Arab gift for the histrionic, have made it very difficult to distinguish allegations worthy of serious consideration from the rest."

Other Foreign Office correspondence makes clear that with the British intelligence network all but destroyed, interrogation was the only way to get information on the rival FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen) and NLF terrorist groups.

Following pressure by Amnesty, an inquiry was held and a Foreign Office official was accused but acquitted of ill-treating a detainee.

In July 1967, the new High Commissioner, Sir Humphrey Trevalyan told the Foreign Office: "Things have gone from bad to worse in Aden, security incidents continue at the rate of about 20 a day and unless the locals stop chasing expatriate businessmen away, the Adeni will only inherit debt and a stinking pile of rubble."