On Monday, the UK government issued its latest response to continuing criticisms by a long-standing Parliamentary Inquiry into the government’s failure to properly support UK victims of Libya-sponsored IRA terrorism.
By directly and intentionally arming the Provisional IRA during the 1970s and 80s, Libya was responsible for history’s most devastating terrorist assault on the UK. It resulted in the murder and maiming of thousands.
The Libyan regime was at war with the United States of America and the UK. Unable to mount a conventional attack, it resorted to a proxy terrorist assault on the UK via the IRA.
Each IRA bomb might as well have been detonated by Libya itself.
In 2008, US victims of Libya sponsored terrorism – many as a consequence of legal actions we took in the US on behalf of both US and UK citizens – received hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation from Libya.
Quite rightly, the US government had used all its diplomatic power and leverage to discharge the duty of care it owed its citizens; thereby forcing Libya to pay for its crimes. France and Germany did the same for theirs.
Despite having the same opportunity, the UK, refusing to act, stood by and did nothing. US victims, as they were entitled, received millions in compensation; our UK victims in the same legal actions got zero. It was a national scandal.
Due to the government’s abdication of duty, my partner, Jason McCue, was forced to travel to Benghazi in 2011, while the civil war was waging, to secure a written commitment from the new Libyan government to pay the UK victims compensation.
He succeeded where the government had refused to tread. Worse still, despite this commitment in hand, the government refused, government-to-government, to seal the deal.
Prime Minister David Cameron told us it had to wait as new Libyan government needed time “to get their feet under the desk”.
Mere weeks later, the government led a UK trade delegation to Libya, including representatives from BP and Shell; Libya’s commitment to compensate was seemingly buried for the sake of trade deals.
After years of legal action and campaigning, the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee agreed to our request to launch an Inquiry into the matter.
Rightly, the inquiry concluded that the government does indeed have a duty to enter into direct government-to-government (G2G) negotiations with Libya on behalf of UK victims.
In response, the government chose to invent the fig-leaf of a self-proclaimed “longstanding position of not pursuing government-to-government negotiations with Libya on behalf of Qaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism”.
Let’s be clear, this is a position that the government has chosen to adopt.
Indeed, when it came to Lockerbie and the murder of WPC Fletcher the government’s “position” was, rightly, very different.
For years, the government has tried to claim that it’s prevented by international law from negotiating on behalf of the victims.
When we submitted evidence to the inquiry that this assertion had neither legal substance or merit, the government shifted in its seat and confessed that its position was not a matter of law after all - rather, it was merely one of policy.
In short, the government has chosen, and is choosing, not to help our victims; preferring, instead, to leave them to fend for themselves.
Similarly, the government continues to undermine the victims by querying whether they are entitled to compensation because Libya was only “indirectly” responsible for their suffering.
This is a moral and legal fallacy. At a time when parents are convicted of funding terrorism for sending money to their children in Syria, our government is attempting to argue that Libya, who armed the IRA with Semtex, thereby prolonging the Troubles for decades, are not legally responsible for those maimed and murdered as a consequence. Its position is perverse.
Our government should be embarrassed and ashamed. Not just for undermining the victims’ claims, but for such a display of weakness in comparison to the position taken by the US, France, Germany, and others.
What message does this send to other countries who would arm those who wish to harm us; who would fund the training and strapping of explosives to the chests of young men so that they could detonate themselves on the Underground or at a music concert, massacring innocents?
Earlier this year, it was announced that a Special Representative to the victims, William Shawcross, would be appointed by the government in, an as yet, undetermined role.
The inquiry is firm that Mr Shawcross should be empowered to enter into G2G negotiations on the victims’ behalf. Once again, the government opposes this as it prefers to appease failing Libyan governments; all the while doing nothing meaningful for the victims.
Instead, it seeks to confine Mr Shawcross’s role to that of a bean-counter with the clerical task of “investigat[ing] the feasibility of calculating the precise amount of compensation due to victims from the Libyan government”.
Besides the fact that we have already done this, as well as offered the results to the government, doing so neuters Mr Shawcross’s role before it has even begun.
The government has demonstrated that there are those within it that care little for our victims; all the while caring more for the promises of trade, diplomacy, and preserving the status quo. These are the ones that seek to delay the process, cynically restricting the ambit of Mr Shawcross’s remit and, by doing so, miring him in the intractable and never-ending debate in Northern Ireland of what constitutes a victim and where they should sit in the hierarchy of compensation.
If they have their way, IRA terrorists who blew their fingers off while unwrapping their Libyan gift of Semtex will be entitled to compensation alongside the very victims whose lives their bombs blew-up.
The fact is, these calculations, submitted by us to the government, have already been reviewed and endorsed by US class-action experts.
Moreover, the model for managing and distributing compensation has already been created by the US Department of State after the US struck its own settlement with Libya. Indeed, we’ve suggested many times that the government should liaise with its US counterparts, only for it to either fail or refuse to do so.
The government’s latest revelation, under pressure from NIAC, is that it has made at least around £40 million (an average of around £5 million per year), and perhaps more, in tax payments from Libyan funds that have been frozen in the UK since 2011.
The victims have long argued that the billions in frozen funds should be used to settle their claims for compensation. The reason why the government has refused to countenance this may now be clear – the alternative is just too profitable.
The priority now, for which there is precedent, should be to utilize frozen Libyan assets in the UK to justly pay the UK victims the compensation they are due and what the Libyan government previously agreed it intended to pay.
Although not diplomatically necessary, the government may first wish to seek consent from Libya to do so. Should it refuse, Libya does not have a moral or legal leg to stand on. Any protest, in light of the “rivers of blood” Libya inflicted on the UK, will do them no credit and should fall on deaf ears.
How the government can continue to peddle these untenable positions, excuses and falsehoods is mystifying.
How it can do so without succumbing to crippling shame and embarrassment is another.
• Matthew Jury is a lawyer at McCue & Partners LLP