BA seeks media gag on hostage tapes

BRITISH AIRWAYS is trying to ban the release of interviews with staff involved in the ill-fated flight BA149, which landed in Kuwait hours after the Iraqi invasion in August 1990. The plane's passengers were held hostage by Saddam Hussein and some are now suing BA for damages.

Texan lawyer William Neumann, acting for three Indian passengers on the flight, made the videotapes during a visit to London this week. He was interviewing BA flight crew and ground staff in preparation for legal action alleging negligence by BA in its supervision of the flight.

In a submission to a Texas court, BA claims that it would be 'subject to annoyance, embarrassment, oppression and be unduly burdened' if the information was released to the press.

The interviews were with Laurie O'Toole, the BA manager for Iraq and Kuwait, and a member of his staff, as well as Captain Richard Brunyate, who piloted BA149 from London to Kuwait, and relief pilot Captain Peter Clarke, who was preparing to fly the plane on to Madras when Iraqi jets strafed the runway.

BA is seeking 'a protective order preventing dissemination of the video depositions to the press, and any type of media/television and/or all other relief which this court may deem just and proper in the circumstances'.

According to BA, its application to the court 'stems from the sensitive nature of the actions and the harm that would be incurred by British Airways if the tapes were disseminated to the media in London and other cities'. The plaintiffs would 'have no valid reason to release the information other than harassment of . . . British Airways'.

Mr Neumann says his interviews confirm much of the information revealed in investigations by the Independent on Sunday, and expressed 'surprise' that BA should be seeking to ban the release of the interviews.

BA has always denied that it was liable for the plight of passengers and crew who were detained after the flight landed, although it has since paid substantial compensation to members of the flight crew held hostage during the Iraqi invasion.

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