David Cameron makes no apology for Amritsar massacre

PM says killing of 380 people was 'shameful' but does not apologise

Amritsar

David Cameron has defended the British empire on the day he visited the site of a notorious colonial massacre of unarmed Indians by troops under the command of British officers and described the event as “deeply shameful”. He stopped short of apologising for what took place.

“In my view, we are dealing with something that happened a good 40 years before I was born and that Winston Churchill described as monstrous at the time and the British government rightly condemned at the time,” he told British reporters.

“So I don’t think the right thing is to reach back into history and seek out things you should apologise for. I think the right thing is to acknowledge what happened, to recall what happened, to show respect and understanding for what happened.”

On a visit to the site of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar, where at least 380 men, women and children were shot in cold blood 94 years ago, the Prime Minister observed a minute’s silence, bowed his head as he laid a wreath and signed a condolence book.

“This was a deeply shameful event in British history, one that Winston Churchill rightly described at the time as “monstrous”. We must never forget what happened here,” he wrote in black pen, underlining the word “never”. “In remembering we must ensure that the United Kingdom stands up for the right to peaceful protest everywhere in the world.”

Ahead of his three-day visit to India, there had been speculation that Mr Cameron might issue an apology for the massacre, ordered by General Reginald Dyer. But having signed the book, the Prime Minister defended his decision not to go further with his choice of words.

The killings at Jallianwala Bagh represent one of the darkest episodes during Britain’s colonial rule of India that stretched more than 250 years. There were many others, such as the Bengal Famine of 1943, when the government’s inaction allowed up to four million people to starve to death. Mr Cameron is the first sitting British PM to visit the site.

Asked whether he remained proud of Britain’s colonial history, he said: “I think there is an enormous amount to be proud of in what the British empire did and was responsible for, but of course there were bad events as well as good events and the bad events we should learn from and the good events we should celebrate.”

He added: “In terms of our relationship with India, is our past a help or a handicap, I would say net-net it’s a help because of the shared history, culture, the things that we share and the contribution that Indians talk about that we have made. But obviously when there are bad events we have to remember them and be clear about them and learn from them.”

Mr Cameron was also asked whether Britain should give back items such as the Koh-i-Noor diamond and other items which many consider nothing more than colonial plunder. He said he did not, but that he wanted the British Museum and others to continue their tie-ups with foreign institutions.

During his visit to Jallianwala Bagh, Mr Cameron was shown around the memorial garden by some of the descendants of those who were present in April 13 1919 when troops opened fire without warning and let off 1,650 bullets. He was told about a well into which 120 people perished trying to escape .

It is known that Mr Cameron is keen to attract more potential voters for the Conservatives from Britain’s ethnic minorities, of whom 300,000 to 700,000 are British Sikhs. But his visit threatened to reopen old wounds.

Sunil Kapoor, whose great-grandfather was shot and killed and whose body lay uncollected for six days, said: “If you feel shameful, then why not [make] a proper apology.”

Others believed Mr Cameron had done enough. “He came here and made a gesture to us. He paid his tribute, he gave a minute of silence,” said SK Mukherjee, secretary of the memorial association and whose grandfather survived the atrocity. “By coming here he has made a gesture. It’s a good step for bettering our relations.”

Nigel Collett, author of a history of the massacre, The Butcher of Amritsar, said he did not think Mr Cameron needed to apologise.

“Those who should have apologised are long dead and their failure to apologise, or more particularly to recognise the terrible wrong that had been done, rebounded on them and helped destroy the empire they wished to preserve,” he said. “The Prime Minister took the right approach.”

Earlier, Mr Cameron visited the Golden Temple, a revered place of pilgrimage for Sikhs.

Barefoot and wearing a blue scarf wrapped around his head, he visited the celebrated communal kitchens which provide free meals for tens of thousands of pilgrims every day.

Met officer found dead with gunshot wound

A Metropolitan Police protection officer has been found dead from a gunshot wound at his home in north London.

The 43-year-old PC was part of the Specialist Protection Command, which covers protection for VIPs including the Royals and the Prime Minister.

Police said they were not treating the death as suspicious, and that detectives will now investigate whether a police firearm was involved.

Police arrived at the house in Camden on Tuesday afternoon “following concerns about the occupant,” a Met spokesman said.

Officers forced entry to the property and found the body of a man with a gunshot injury. He was pronounced dead at 4.45pm.

The man’s next of kin and the Independent Police Complaints Commission have been informed.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Jerry Seinfeld Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee
peopleSitcom star urges men to be more supportive of women than ever
Life and Style
Living for the moment: Julianne Moore playing Alzheimer’s sufferer Alice
health
News
Jay Z
businessJay-Z's bid for Spotify rival could be blocked
Sport
footballLouis van Gaal is watching a different Manchester United and Wenger can still spring a surprise
News
The spider makes its break for freedom
VIDEO
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

Recruitment Genius: Lettings Negotiator

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Central London based firm loo...

Recruitment Genius: Events / Conference Operations Manager

£25000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Administrator

£14400 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a multi-d...

Recruitment Genius: Service, Maintenance & Installation Engineers - London

£34000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This provider of Energy Consult...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot