Malaya killings: Court of Appeal rejects inquiry bid
- 19 March 2014
- From the section UK
Relatives of 24 men killed by British troops in Malaya in 1948 have lost the latest round of their long-running legal battle for an official inquiry.
Three Court of Appeal judges dismissed the bid by campaigners for an inquiry into the shootings at Batang Kali.
The families, who believe the men were "massacred", have vowed to now take their fight to the Supreme Court.
The British forces at the time of the shootings claimed the men were insurgents.
The Court of Appeal judgement follows a High Court ruling in 2012 which upheld a UK government decision not to hold a public investigation.
In a written ruling, Lord Justice Maurice Kay, Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Fulford said it was alleged 24 civilians were "executed without any justification, and the authorities thereafter have either covered up what occurred or have been reluctant to take the necessary steps to enable the truth - whatever it may be - to be revealed.
"This has never been accepted by the British authorities, who have maintained that the deceased were shot while they were attempting to escape."
The judges acknowledged that the original investigation into the killings had been "woefully inadequate".
They added that it was "probable" the relatives' case would succeed in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
The appellants, they said, had "forged the first link in the chain" to establishing an inquiry.
The families involved have vowed to fight on. Lawyer John Halford said they would continue to "seek a final, just outcome" and would ask the Supreme Court to "call the state to account for the killings".
"Some might think it remarkable that present-day human rights standards could create a duty to investigate wrongdoing by British troops in a colonial village six decades ago and its cover-up in the years that followed," Mr Halford said.
"But those standards are rooted in far older British principles, specifically the right to life and to its protection by laws to be enforced on an equal basis."
Quek Ngee Meng, co-ordinator of the Action Committee Condemning the Batang Kali Massacre, said in a statement the families' "journey to seek redress and justice has not come to an end".
The rubber plantation workers were killed by a platoon of Scots Guards as British troops were conducting operations against communist insurgents during the so-called Malayan Emergency.
Families of the ethnic Chinese victims have been campaigning for decades for a public inquiry and compensation.
The attack happened when Malaya, which became known as Malaysia in 1963, was still under British rule.
At a hearing in November 2012, Michael Fordham QC, representing four appellants - two of whom were at Batang Kali as children - said it was still important "historic wrongs" were investigated.
"It is now well-recognised that the public interest considerations which inform the operation of the rule of law do protect against inadequately investigated incidents being 'quietly forgotten'," he told judges.
Mr Fordham said that at least three of the soldiers who were on patrol and at least five villagers who were at Batang Kali were still alive.
Evidence from living witnesses, including soldiers, could be available to an inquiry, he said, adding that "the bodies of the victims could be disinterred and the distance and direction of the gunshot wounds analysed".
Foreign Secretary William Hague and Defence Secretary Philip Hammond both opposed the application, saying the decision not to hold any inquiry had been reached lawfully.
The High Court upheld the government's decision, warning the cost of an inquiry could be more than £1m.
"It would appear to be very difficult at this point in time to establish definitively whether the men were shot trying to escape or whether these were deliberate executions," the judges ruled.
"Nor, in our view, would it be any easier to determine whether the use of force was reasonable or proportionate."
There have already been two inquiries into the killings - one shortly after the events in 1948 and another in 1970.
Former Labour Defence Secretary Denis Healey instructed Scotland Yard to create a special task team to investigate the matter.
However, the incoming Conservative government dropped it in 1970, citing a lack of evidence.