Fury as Government lawyers probe ‘allegations of wrongdoing’ by Britain in Cyprus during the 1950s

Government lawyers have written to British veterans asking for their recollections of the 1950s Cyprus conflict as they investigate allegations of wrongdoing by UK troops, it has emerged. 

Former Royal Signals Regimental Sergeant Major Sam Bedwell reportedly received a letter asking whether he had witnessed ‘anything untoward’ during his service in the Cyprus uprising.

Mr Bedwell, 83, said he had not seen any such behaviour and slammed the ‘nonsense’ of compensation claims against former British soldiers, the Daily Express reported.

Last month the British Government denied any wrongdoing in Cyprus amid claims of rape and torture during the country’s struggle for independence.

Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee, said it was ‘outrageous’ for officials to go on ‘fishing expeditions’ so long after the conflict.

Other Cyprus veterans also slammed the latest investigation saying they had been fighting a ‘ruthless enemy’ and were ‘doing their duty’.

One document lodged at the High Court earlier claimed that British colonial forces had raped a 15-year-old girl and tortured civilian detainees with beatings and mock hangings.

Lawyers representing the Cypriots, who were mostly juveniles at the time, said they had irrefutable evidence, including detention and medical records. Britain denies all wrongdoing.

The Cyprus insurgency began on April 1, 1955, when the National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters (EOKA) began a four-year insurgency against British authorities determined that ‘Cyprus shall never have self-determination’.

Cyprus gained independence in 1960 but Britain still has two large sovereign base areas – RAF Akrotiri and Dhekelia – which remain key to British interests in the Middle East.

Britain has already paid tens of millions of pounds to Afghan and Iraqi civilians after claims resulting from the more recent conflicts in the Middle East.

In 2015 it was found that there had been 1,145 claims in Iraq with 323 of them resulting in almost £19.6 million in out-of-court settlements.

Labour MP Bambos Charalambous, vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Cyprus, said one of his constituents had been beaten by British Army captains.

Mr Charalambous said: ‘Rape is rape and torture is torture. It doesn’t matter how long ago it occurred; anyone who commits these abhorrent acts should always be looking over their shoulder. The idea that the truth should not out because of the passing of time is ridiculous.

‘The Cyprus Emergency was a horrible chapter in Britain’s colonial history and more and more facts are emerging about the extent of the matter through disclosure of new files made public for the first time.

‘This is not an attack on distinguished and honourable servicemen stationed in Cyprus. Instead, it is about terrible acts authorised by Her Majesty’s Government at the time via the War Office and Colonial Office.

‘It would be right and proper for the Government to admit responsibility now, so that this matter could be properly sorted without a needless and embarrassing battle in open court.

‘The most recent revelations in the press about the Government Legal Department contacting former servicemen does seem like they are clutching at straws.

‘This is a shambolic matter, which will only damage the UK’s reputation on the international stage.’

Kevin Conroy, a lawyer representing the Greek Cypriot claimants, said: ‘The evidence shows Her Majesty’s Government clearly knew what was going on during the Cyprus Emergency.

‘This recent revelation that the Government Legal Department is attempting to gain witness evidence from the junior ranks who are now still alive is a welcome step in the right direction, although the fact they have taken that step came as news to me.

‘It is a shame we had to learn it from the press. Given the extent of the cover up at the time I expect that most ex-service men and women will testify similarly to Mr Bedwell. The evidence I have is that the individuals responsible for assaulting our clients was confined to a relatively small group known to the Government at the time.

‘I have no intention of besmirching the honour of the vast majority of men and women who served in Cyprus during the Emergency period who, as Mr Bedwell says, found themselves in an extremely difficult situation.’

‘It is obvious that torture and human rights abuses did occur. It is now time for the Government to acknowledge that happened publicly and make the right and correct reparations.’

source: Daily Mail