UK government to apologise to Libyan couple who were tortured by Gaddafi

The British government will tomorrow apologise to Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar for the role played by the UK state in their kidnapping and rendition to Libya in 2004, to settle a long running claim from them for an apology and token compensation.

I do not know the terms of the apology. But I am told it will be unambiguous.

The government's decision to settle the case comes weeks after the judge in pre-trial hearings ordered the Metropolitan police to hand over to Belhaj's lawyers' evidence accumulated in a criminal investigation. That reinforced Belhaj's case.

Belhaj and Boudchar, backed by Reprieve, the organisation that brings together human rights defenders, have been suing the home office, the foreign office, Mi6, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former head of counter-terrorism at Mi6 Sir Mark Allen.

Belhaj is a Libyan and former opponent of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. In 2004 he and Boudchar applied for political assylum in the UK from China where they were living. They were then deported to Malaysia and held in Kuala Lumpur for several weeks, before being told they could travel to the UK, via Bangkok.

On the fight, he was hooded and shackled to the floor of the plane, and unable to sit or lie for 17 hours. In Bangkok, husband and wife were handed to the US authorities, who took him to what may have been a secret prison - where he was interrogated, beaten, blindfolded and hung from his wrists.

They were then "rendered" to Libya, where he was kept for six years in hideous jails, and she was imprisoned for four months. Again he was beaten and tortured. He was interrogated by foreign agents, including some believed to be from the UK.

Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi in 2009 Credit: AP

Britain's role in the rendition was exposed, after the fall of Gaddafi, from the files of the Libyan security services. These show the UK alerted Libya to the couple being in Malaysia. And in a letter from Allen to Moussa Koussa, then head of Libyan intelligence, Allen wrote "I congratulate you on the arrival of [Abdul-Hakim Belhaj]. This was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over the years".

Shortly after the rendition of Belhaj and Boudchar, Tony Blair paid his first visit to Libya, and famously - some would say notoriously - embraced Gadaffi, Blair said Libya was making "common cause with us in the fight against al-Qaeda extremism".

Jack Straw and Sir Mark Allen have denied any wrong-doing. Jack Straw had been defended by the government, but it is understood he has since appointed his own lawyers because his evidence differed from Allen's.

The apology will be made on behalf of the government by the attorney general, Jeremy Wright. Belhaj and Boudchar were asking for compensation of £1 from each of the defendants. For them the case was not about money, but the principle.