UK spends £11m in legal fees over Libyan dissident case

26 Apr 19

A Freedom of Information request has revealed that more than £11m of public funds have been spent by the UK in legal fees relating to the rendition of the Libyan dissident Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife Fatima Boudchar, the Guardian has reported.

In 2004, the pair were detained in a CIA facility in Thailand where they were beaten and placed in stress positions.

It has subsequently been revealed that British intelligence officers were involved in their abduction. Hooded and shackled, they were flown to one of Muammar Gaddafi’s prisons in Libya, where Belhaj received further torture and was sentence to death.

He was held in prison for six years. Boudchar was four and a half months pregnant when she was detained. She was released just before giving birth.

The Metropolitan Police investigated Sir Mark Allen, MI6’s former head of counter-terrorism, in connection with the abduction and in 2011, the couple initiated legal proceedings against the UK government, helped by the civil liberties organisation, Reprieve.

In 2013, the Justice & Security Act was passed, permitting secret ‘closed material procedures’ in civil claims concerning allegations of government wrongdoing.

A government appeal for the case to be heard in private was overturned by the Supreme Court.  But in 2016, the CPS declined to prosecute Allen. He has always maintained his innocence.

Last May, Theresa May wrote to the couple to apologise unreservedly on behalf of the government for their treatment. Boudchar subsequently accepted £500,000 in compensation.

Answering the Guardian’s FoI request, the Government Legal Department said that total government legal costs for the case were £4.4m. The legal costs paid the couple’s lawyers were £6.9m.

Katie Taylor, deputy director of Reprieve, called for a judge-led inquiry into British complicity in torture.

She said: “Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were willing to settle for an apology, but rather than admit Britain’s role in their rendition, the government resisted coming clean for years – at astronomical cost to the taxpayer. If the prime minister has truly learned her lesson, as she wrote in her apology to the couple, she surely understands this is the only way to draw a line under this shameful era and prevent further ‘war on terror’ abuses.”

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