Ex-MI6 officer will not face charges over Libyan renditions
The former senior MI6 officer Sir Mark Allen will not face charges over the rendition and torture of two Libyan dissidents after the decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed.
But prosecutors concluded he had been in contact with countries that detained and Sami al-Saadi in 2004 as they were transferred back to Colonel Gadaffi’s Libya and had “sought political authority for some of his actions”.
Following a four-year investigation by Scotland Yard, which gathered nearly 30,000 pages of evidences, the CPS has confirmed that it did not believe there were grounds for launching legal action against “the suspect” described only as a public official.
Sue Hemming, the head of the CPS’s special crime and counter-terrorism division, said: “Following a thorough investigation, the CPS has decided that there is insufficient evidence to charge the suspect with any criminal offence.
“We made our decision based upon all the available admissible evidence and after weighing up all of the information we have been provided with.”
There had been speculation that the former foreign secretary Jack Straw could face charges. That prospect now seems to have disappeared.
Belhaj, a Libyan, and his wife, Fatima Bouchar, were abducted and flown by the from Bangkok to president Muammar Gaddafi’s interrogation and torture cells in Tripoli.
Saadi, who was forced on to a plane in Hong Kong, spent six years in jail. Both Belhaj and Saadi say they were frequently tortured. Saadi’s wife and four children – the youngest being a six-year-old girl – were also rendered and imprisoned.
Evidence of MI6 involvement in the Libyans’ ordeal emerged that was found inside the abandoned office of , Gaddafi’s foreign minister and former intelligence chief, after the regime fell.
A CPS statement said: “In what has been a thorough and painstaking investigation, evidence and information was obtained from a large number of records, individuals and organisations including the Secret Intelligence Service [MI6], the Security Service [MI5], other government departments and authorities in other countries.
“Evidence was also taken from alleged victims and other witnesses during the course of this four-year investigation.”
The CPS concluded: “Officials from the UK did not physically detain, transfer or ill-treat the alleged victims directly, nor did the suspect have any connection to the initial physical detention of either man or their families.”
But, the statement added: “Following careful review, the CPS has concluded that there is sufficient evidence to support the contention that the suspect had been in communication with individuals from the foreign countries responsible for the detention and transfer of the Belhaj and Al-Saadi families; disclosed aspects of what was occurring to others within this country; and sought political authority for some of his actions albeit not within a formal written process nor in detail which covered all his communications and conduct.”
There was no reference to section 7 of the 1994 Intelligence Services Act, sometimes described as the , which protects MI6 officers from prosecution for actions anywhere in the world that would otherwise be illegal. That protection would only be available as long as their actions were authorised in writing by the secretary of state.
Under the victims’ right to review scheme, Belhaj and Saadi have already indicated through their lawyers that they will challenge the CPS’s decision not to bring charges. If that fails to reverse the outcome, they could subsequently initiate judicial review of the process.
Westminster’s intelligence and security committee confirmed it would continue to investigate the two rendition operations. Chair Dominic Grieve, the former attorney general, said: “The ISC will be examining this case as part of our current inquiry in relation to detainee treatment and rendition. I cannot pre-judge the outcome of our investigation: this is a wide-ranging and detailed inquiry and I expect it to continue for some time.”
Responding to the CPS decision, Cori Crider, a lawyer from the human rights organisation Reprieve who represented the two families, said: “With today’s official acknowledgement that British officials were involved in this rendition, the fig leaf of official secrecy in this case is in tatters. There is one crucial question: who knew who was on those planes, and for those who knew, what possible reason can there be for them to evade justice?
“Top British officials helped abduct a pregnant woman and four children, and so far we have no apology, no explanation, and now no one held responsible. Sir Mark Allen took credit, in writing, for the operation. Jack Straw, we are told, signed it off. The head of MI5 was so incensed about all this she wrote to Tony Blair at the time.
“Strangely, the CPS’s attitude to all this is ‘see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil’. It is hard to escape the conclusion that this decision has a great deal to do with political power and very little to do with the rule of law. While these families have been denied justice at every turn, we are determined to keep fighting for it.”
Belhaj’s wife, Fatima Bouchar, told the BBC about her rendition in 2004: “I was six months pregnant. I was so scared that I was going to die.”
Belhaj said: “I am very disappointed that individuals responsible will not be prosecuted. If there is political interference with the courts then it undermines British justice.”
The Metropolitan police issued a separate statement saying that its investigation, known as Operation Lydd, had been “thorough and penetrating” and “conducted without fear or favour” over a two-and-a-half year period, resulting in a 28,000-page file of evidence .
It added that the decision to not prosecute Allen was entirely a matter for the CPS. Privately, however, some at the Yard have expressed their anger at the decision, believing they had built a powerful case, in particular over the second of the two rendition operations, in which Saadi and his wife and children were abducted and flown to Tripoli.
Andrew Tyrie, the prominent backbench Tory MP who has campaigned for several years for a thorough investigation into the UK’s involvement in extraordinary rendition, said the ISC must now get to the bottom of what happened. “The public need to be assured that the scope and limits of British involvement in kidnap and torture have been fully investigated.
“They cannot yet have that confidence. Failure to get to the truth would almost certainly result in a drip-drip of further revelations. These could tarnish Britain’s reputation far more than the shorter term impact of an inquiry – preferably judge-led – which gets to the truth.”
Sonya Sceats, the policy and advocacy director at charity , said: “The full truth about British complicity in torture still has to be smoked out, even if this will not happen in a criminal court. The gravity of the issues and legal obligation for a human rights-compliant process mean that David Cameron must make good on his promise to hold a judge-led inquiry.
“By taking this step, the prime minister can start to repair the damage done to the UK’s reputation, support those working inside the intelligence services to prevent further British involvement in torture, and deliver justice for the survivors who endured unspeakable brutality at the hands of our security partners in and elsewhere.”
’s legal programme director, Rachel Logan, said: “Today’s decision underscores the need for an independent inquiry that is thorough, effective, and can get to the bottom of the grave allegations of UK involvement in rendition and torture.
“The police investigations were narrow in scope – focused on whether they felt there was a realistic prospect of convicting an identified individual, to the criminal standard of proof, in these cases; the need properly to investigate the UK’s responsibility for violations of its human rights obligations in relation to these matters remains.”