Victims of Libyan-backed terrorism face new compensation battle

UK yet to confirm if it will publish a report by former charity regulator into the decades-old compensation claims

Libya's leader Muammar Gaddafi adjusts his glasses at the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island in this September 27, 2009 file photo. Gaddafi died of wounds suffered in his capture near his hometown of Sirte on October 20, 2011, a senior NTC military official said. National Transitional Council official Abdel Majid Mlegta told Reuters earlier that Gaddafi was captured and wounded in both legs at dawn on Thursday as he tried to flee in a convoy which NATO warplanes attacked.  REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Files (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS) *** Local Caption ***  SIN303_LIBYA_1020_11.JPG
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British victims of Irish republican terrorism are preparing legal action to force the government to share a report examining the compensation claims of those injured and bereaved in attacks using explosives supplied by the regime of Muammar Qaddafi.

William Shawcross, a writer and former charity regulator, delivered his report in March which examined how best to secure compensation from Libya for victims of 1970s and 80s terrorism but the government has not committed to publishing his findings.

Families of victims responded angrily on Monday as they had believed that the report would be made public and would bolster their campaign to persuade the UK to take a more active role in pursuing their cases. Mr Shawcross’s task was to inform government thinking on the subject and advise on the level of compensation that should be sought.

Belfast lawyer Kevin Winters, who is taking legal action on behalf of families of victims, told The National that he was working on a multi-pronged effort to see the report first ordered by former Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

“There was an expectation on behalf of victims that would get access to the report, if not the whole of it,” he said. “We accept there may be sensitive issues in relation to intelligence that may be subject to redaction and we accept that.”

At the time of his appointment in March last year, Mr Shawcross said the “victims of the IRA terrorism sponsored by Qaddafi deserve all support for their efforts to obtain redress from the Libyan government”.

Mr Shawcross said on Monday that he submitted a “confidential report for the Foreign Secretary” in March this year and it was up to the government whether it made it public.

The UK’s longstanding position has been not to pursue government-to-government negotiations with Libya on behalf of victims.

The Qaddafi regime supplied guns and explosives to the Irish Republican Army during its decades-long struggle for a united and independent Ireland, known as The Troubles, that left more than 3,500 people dead.

A 1998 agreement ended the armed conflict. Six years later, Col Qaddafi agreed to dismantle his chemical weapons programme and pay compensation to victims from the plane that was blown up over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988.

But the deal struck with former prime minister Tony Blair did not address the issue of broader compensation claims for victims of Libyan-supplied explosives.

The families of victims of Libyan-provided Semtex have been told they should launch individual claims rather than rely on the administration of Boris Johnson to negotiate with any future Libyan government.

But relatives say the suggestion is impractical and compared the government’s stance to the US, which passed laws in 2008 that allowed the Qaddafi regime to pay $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) in compensation for American victims.

The families saw the appointment of Mr Shawcross as a boost to their attempts and during meetings highlighted the cases of victims who had died or committed suicide without securing compensation.

Foreign Office minister Liz Sugg said last week that the Covid-19 pandemic had hampered the Government’s efforts to examine the report.

“The issue of UK victims of Qaddafi-sponsored IRA terrorism remains important to Her Majesty's Government,” she said. “Government ministers will consider the report in detail in due course, including whether to publish any elements of it.”

Jonathan Ganesh, who was injured in a 1996 IRA bombing in east London, said that victims were “confused, devastated and heartbroken” that they might not see the report.

"Victims and their families are absolutely devastated to learn that the government is apparently unwilling to publish Mr Shawcross's report,” he said. “It is heart-breaking as the government appointed Mr William Shawcross as our representative.”