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Sat, 23 January 2021

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By Geoff Lyons
By Baroness Kennedy
Press releases

Theresa May apologises 'unreservedly’ for UK’s role in rendition of Libyan couple

Theresa May apologises 'unreservedly’ for UK’s role in rendition of Libyan couple
4 min read

The Prime Minister has today apologised “unreservedly” for Britain’s role in the kidnapping of a Libyan dissident who was jailed and tortured by Colonel Gadaffi's regime.

The Government issued the unprecedented apology to Libyan opposition leader Abdel Hakim Belhaj and his wife, Fatima Boudcha, after a trove of documents that emerged following the overthrow of dictator Colonel Gadaffi showed that British intelligence officers played a key role in his kidnap and extraction to Libya.

Mr Belhaj has been fighting for more than six years to secure compensation and an apology from the UK government.

Attorney General Jeremy Wright today announced that Mrs Boudcha would receive £500,000 in compensation for the UK’s role in their “detention, rendition and harrowing experiences”.

He added: “It is also important that we should act in line with our values and in accordance with the rule of law.

“That means that when we get things wrong it is right and just that we should acknowledge it, compensate those affected, and learn lessons. I believe this is such a case.“

In a letter to the couple, Theresa May said that their account was “moving” and “deeply troubling” as she slammed the "unacceptable practices" of some of the UK's international allies.

She added: “It is clear that you were both subjected to appalling treatment and that you suffered greatly, not least the affront to the dignity of Mrs Boudchar who was pregnant at the time.

“The UK government believes your accounts. Neither of you should have been treated in this way.

“The UK government’s actions contributed to your detention, rendition and suffering.

“The UK government shared information about you with its international partners.

“We should have done more to reduce the risk that you would be mistreated. We accept this was a failing on our part.

“Later, during your detention in Libya, we sought information about and from you. We wrongly missed opportunities to alleviate your plight. This should not have happened.

“On behalf of Her Majesty’s government, I apologise unreservedly. We are profoundly sorry for the ordeal that you both suffered and our role in it.

“The UK government has learned many lessons from this period. We should have understood much sooner the unacceptable practices of some of our international partners and we sincerely regret our failures.”


Ms Boudcha, who watched today’s statement from the Commons gallery, told The Guardian in 2012 that, following the couple's kidnap they had both been tortured by Libyan captors and then interrogated by British officers.

Following the announcement, she said: “I thank the British government for its apology and for inviting me and my son to the UK to hear it. I accept the government’s apology.”

Just two weeks after the couple's extraction to Libya, Tony Blair visited the country to herald a thawing of relations between the West and Colonel Gadaffi's regime, while oil giant Shell announced a new gas exploration deal there.

A spokesperson for the couple’s UK legal representatives, Leigh Day, welcomed the “historic occasion”.

“Today’s historic occasion is a tribute to the resilience of our clients in their quest for justice. After six long years of litigation, HMG has rightly acknowledged that, even in the fields of counter-terrorism and international relations, there are lines which must not be crossed and which were crossed here, with devastating consequences for my clients.

“Today’s candid apology from the Government helps restore the humanity and dignity so brutally denied to my clients during their ordeal and is warmly welcomed.”


Jack Straw, Mr Blair's foreign secretary at the time of the rendition, said in a statement that he recognised that the Libyan couple's ordeal would have been "deeply distressing" - but he insisted that he had "sought to act at all times in a manner which was fully consistent with my legal duties, and with national and international law".

While acknowledging that he had given approval in 2004 for "some information to be shared with international partners", the ex-Cabinet minister said he had only "limited" recollection of events.

"In every case where my approval was sought I assumed, and was entitled to assume, that the actions for which my approval was sought were lawful," he said.

"This included in appropriate cases obtaining assurances as to the humane treatment of those concerned.

"This case clearly raises serious issues. However I remain constrained for national security reasons as to what further I can say publicly."

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