Embassy staff feeling the long arm of British law

Diplomats in Britain who abuse their status by flouting the law with impunity are facing an increasingly tough response from the Foreign Office.

A clampdown was launched shortly after Libyan officials used diplomatic immunity to thwart an investigation into the 1984 murder of police constable Yvonne Fletcher, who was killed by a shot from the Libyan People's Bureau in London.

Until then diplomats openly abused the system, under which they are immune from prosecution by British law, notching up 22,337 unpaid parking tickets in 1986. That number fell to 1,586 in 1995. Among the worst parking culprits were the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Angola, and Nigeria.

Last year there were 34 serious offences, which included 18 drinking and driving cases and a number of thefts and shoplifting incidents.

There are about 2,500 people with diplomatic status in Britain and an additional 7,000 dependents, all of whom under the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1996 are exempt from British law.

But the Foreign Office has been placing increasing pressure on governments and ambassadors for their representatives to obey our laws and waive immunity in cases that are considered serious.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "After the Yvonne Fletcher case we looked closely at the issue - we have taken a much tougher approach now."

Despite the crackdown, there has still be a series of high-profile cases in which diplomats have apparently used their status to escape justice.

When PC Fletcher was shot in 1984 outside the Libyan embassy, her killer was believed to be a diplomat inside. But he was never brought to justice.

James Ingley, an American lay preacher, was accused of a sex attack on a six-year-old girl in his care in 1987. His wife worked at the US Embassy in London and the charges were dropped.

In 1986 Indian envoy Babu Lal Gupta, who was accused of plotting to smuggle pounds 320,000 worth of heroin into Britain, also escaped prosecution.

Cuba's ambassador Dr Oscar Fernandez-Mell was expelled in 1989 after one of his officials fired live bullets in a crowded London street, narrowly missing a bus.

And only last month Iris Ramirez-Paget, for five years the first secretary at the Honduras Embassy in London, fled Britain after being accused of fraudulently obtaining pounds 36,000 in housing benefit and thousands of pounds in income support.

But the number of offences has been dropping and evidence of the tougher line was provided last July when a Zimbabwean diplomat who twice claimed immunity after driving under the influence of alcohol in London was recalled. The Zimbabwe Foreign Affairs Ministry summoned back Charles Mayengehama, 33, the First Secretary at its High Commission in the Strand.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Kelly Osbourne will play a flight attendant in Sharknado 2
people
News
Down-to-earth: Winstone isn't one for considering his 'legacy'
people
News
The dress can be seen in different colours
i100
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
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: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?