Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Theresa May apologises over UK role in Abdul Hakim Belhaj's Libya prison ordeal

Theresa May has apologised on behalf of the Government for the UK's role in a Libyan couple's prison ordeal.

A "full and final settlement" has also been reached with Abdul Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar over their kidnap and rendition to the Middle Eastern nation in 2004.

In a statement on Thursday, Attorney General Jeremy Wright told the House of Commons that the Prime Minister had written to the couple over their "appalling" treatment.

A dissident of former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Belhaj, 52, spent six years in a Libyan prison, where he was tortured having been kidnapped during a flight to the UK from Malaysia via Bangkok.

Following the fall of Gaddafi, it was exposed that the UK had tipped off Libyan authorities that the couple were in south Asia.

The rendition was also linked to an M16-CIA operation and Tony Blair's infamous "deal in the desert" with Gaddafi.

Fatima Boudchar holds the government's letter of apology. Credit: PA

What is Abdul Hakim Belhaj's story?

  • In 2004, he and Boudchar apply for political assylum in UK from China
  • Couple then deported to Malaysia and held in Kuala Lumpur for several weeks
  • Told they could travel to the UK, via Bangkok
  • On flight, Belhaj hooded and shackled to floor of plane, unable to sit or lie for 17 hours
  • In Bangkok, husband and wife handed to US authorities
  • Belhaj likely taken to secret prison - interrogated, beaten, blindfolded and hung from his wrists
  • Belhaj "rendered" to Libya
  • Spends six years in hideous Libyan jails and tortured and interrogated by foreign agents (some believed to be from UK)
  • Boudchar imprisoned (while pregnant) for four months
Attorney General Jeremy Wright read Mrs May's letter of apology.

Mr Belhaj had been attempting to sue the Home Office, Foreign Office, MI6, former foreign secretary Jack Straw and former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen.

The Government's decision to settle came just weeks after a judge ordered the Metropolitan police to hand over evidence accumulated in a criminal investigation.

No admissions of liability have been made, but the claims against all defendants have now been withdrawn.

Ms Boudchar and her son were in Parliament to hear the announcement.

Reading out Mrs May's letter, Mr Wright said: "Your accounts were moving and what happened to you is deeply troubling.

"It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar, who was pregnant at the time.

"The UK government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated this way.

"The UK government's actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering."

Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary at the time of Belhaj's rendition, said in a statement: "I welcome the withdrawal of the proceedings against me that had been brought by Mr Belhaj and Ms Boudchar.

"I recognise that the events they describe will have been deeply distressing for them.

"As Foreign Secretary I was responsible for approving or authorising a wide range of matters to protect our national security, including by meeting our international obligations to share information with international partners.

"I took these responsibilities very seriously. As I have said on many occasions I sought to act at all times in a manner which was fully consistent with my legal duties, and with national and international law."

Mr Straw added that he had a "limited" recollection of the events, but has said that on March 1 2004, he gave oral approval for "some information to be shared with international partners".

Ms Boudchar, who was pregnant during her imprisonment, is set to receive £500,000 in compensation. Mr Belhaj, however, will not receive any financial payment.

In a statement released by his lawyers, Mr Belhaj welcomed and accepted Mrs May's apology and said he extended his "thanks and sincere goodwill" to the Prime Minister and Mr Wright.

"For more than six years I have made clear that I had a single goal in bringing this case: justice," he said.

"Now, at last, justice has been done."

He added: "A great society does not torture; does not help others to torture; and, when it makes mistakes, it accepts them and apologises. Britain has made a wrong right today, and set an example for other nations to follow."

Muammar Gaddafi led Libya for decades until his death in 2011. Credit: AP

Ms Boudchar said that she accepted the Government's apology.

"This case has forced me to relive the lowest moments in my life for many years, and at times it has been a real struggle to keep going," her statement read.

"But by today's settlement I look forward to rebuilding my life with dignity and honour, and living free from the weight of these events with my husband and our five beautiful children."

Mr Belhaj was leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, part of the Islamist opposition to Gaddafi who were branded terrorists by the dictator.

He fled the country in 2001.

His kidnap took place two weeks before then-prime minister Mr Blair visited the north African state to meet Gaddafi.

Mr Belhaj had fought a lengthy legal battle. Credit: AP

The meeting, in Gaddafi's desert tent, marked a dramatic restoration of ties with the former pariah state following Tripoli's announcement that it was giving up its weapons of mass destruction programmes and joining the fight against al-Qaida. Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell simultaneously announced a deal for gas exploration rights off the Libyan coast.

Documents found in the abandoned British embassy and regime offices following the violent overthrow of Gaddafi in 2011 revealed details of UK intelligence links with Libya.

They included a faxed letter from Sir Mark in which he congratulated Gaddafi's intelligence chief Moussa Koussa on the "safe arrival" of Mr Belhaj, saying that it was "the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years".

Another Libyan dissident, Sami al-Saadi, who was returned to Tripoli from Hong Kong in a joint British-Libyan operation and jailed for six years, accepted a settlement of £2.2 million in 2012 from the UK Government.