HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons: follow-up Contents

1Background

Libyan support for the Provisional IRA

1.The Gaddafi regime in Libya provided support for the Provisional IRA from the early 1970s to 1990s.1 This support took the form of tonnes of arms and ammunitions, millions of dollars in finance, military training and explosives. Of this support, the regime’s supply of Semtex was particularly devastating. Semtex is a highly powerful, malleable and almost undetectable plastic explosive. It is known that the regime supplied the Provisional IRA with several shipments of the material.

2.This supply facilitated a deadly Provisional IRA bombing campaign. On 8 November 1987 a Provisional IRA bomb using Semtex killed 11 people during a Remembrance Sunday ceremony in Enniskillen. Almost five years later, on 10 April 1992, a 45kg bomb using Semtex detonated outside the Baltic Exchange in the City of London, killing three people and injuring more than 90 others. On 20 March 1993, a bomb was detonated in Warrington, resulting in the death of two children: Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball. The Provisional IRA then broke its ceasefire on 9 February 1996 (which had lasted from 31 August 1994), when it detonated a bomb in the Docklands area of London. The attack killed two people and injured many more.

3.During the inquiry by our predecessor Committee, (HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons2), witnesses spoke about the human consequences of Gaddafi’s support for the Provisional IRA.3 There can be no doubt that the support Gaddafi provided to the Provisional IRA contributed to its campaign of terror.

Previous and current UK Government policy

4.Victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied material have campaigned for financial support and compensation. Campaigners have argued that they should receive compensation from the Libyan Government and compare their treatment to that of victims from similar attacks in other countries who have received compensation from Libya. The US Administration negotiated a compensation package from the Libyan Government for the US victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism. Similarly, the French and German governments secured compensation from the Gaddafi regime for terrorist acts against their citizens. The UK Government’s position has stood in contrast to the policies of these countries. It maintains that the Government does not espouse “victims’ claims against a state alleged to have sponsored a terrorist group’s activity.”4

5.The survivors and the families of those who were killed or injured in UK attacks have therefore received limited support from the UK Government. Whilst many victims have been eligible for a payment from either the Compensation Agency in Northern Ireland, or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority in Great Britain, many were not aware of their eligibility. In addition, the amounts distributed were modest, and a claim had to be made within two years of the incident.5 Furthermore, victims in Great Britain have struggled to access some support because health and welfare services have traditionally not been as tailored to victims of terrorism as they are in Northern Ireland. The Government response to our predecessor Committee’s report described the role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in supporting victims:

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office provides facilitation support to victims, their representatives and campaign groups, where it has been requested and is appropriate, to assist their efforts to engage with the Libyan authorities in pursuit of compensation.6

Victims argue that this is not nearly sufficient. Susanne Dodd, whose father Metropolitan Police Inspector Stephan Dodd was killed in the IRA Harrods bomb in 1983, stated that “The lack of UK government support has demeaned, demoralised and disgraced victims.”7

6.Our predecessor Committee concluded that the Labour Government under Tony Blair’s premiership missed a vital opportunity, during the period in which Libya was seeking a rapprochement with the West, to act on behalf of the IRA Semtex victims by placing the issue firmly on the negotiating table to secure a compensation package.8 The UK Government’s position appeared to change in September 2009, when Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced the establishment of a dedicated unit in the FCO which would support the victims’ families in their efforts to secure compensation from Libya. However, the Committee concluded that with the complete collapse of the Gaddafi regime in 2011, a window of opportunity, during which successive UK governments could have sought to resolve the issue, had closed.9

7.There was initially optimism that the 2010 Coalition Government would take a new approach to compensation for victims; Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to McCue and Partners, solicitors representing some victims, stating that:

I am extremely enthusiastic about what you are doing and really want to see it progress and come to fruition. If there is anything I can do to help make it happen, let me know.10

8.However, our predecessor Committee received evidence which suggested that little or no progress was made on the issue of compensation from 2010–2015.11 The current Government has continued the policy of non-espousal for victims’ claims. We examine this policy in more detail in Chapter 2.

Previous work by the Committee

9.Our predecessor Committee’s report, published on 2 May 2017, found that:

a)The UK Government should adopt a fresh approach to securing compensation for victims of Semtex bombing.

b)Securing compensation from the Libyan Government could only be achieved through direct government-to-government negotiations. With sufficient determination, the UK Government should be able to reach an agreement.

c)It would be preferable for the Libyan authorities to voluntarily agree a compensation package than for the UK Government to act unilaterally. In achieving this, frozen Libyan assets could still provide the Government with some leverage, which it can use in those negotiations whilst still abiding by the terms of the UN Resolutions.12

d)If, by the end of 2017, it is apparent that the situation in Libya remains such that direct government-to-government negotiations on a compensation deal are not possible in the short to medium term, the UK Government should itself establish and finance a reparations fund ahead of the outcome of such negotiations. Such a fund would provide payments both to community projects, and individuals, whether as a one-off payment or as a pension. This would allow the UK Government to make progress on the job of establishing a list of eligible victims across the UK—a task that has the potential to further delay the payment of compensation, if it is not begun as soon as possible.13

10.This Committee received the Government Response to our predecessor’s report on 8 September 2017, following the general election on 8 June.14 We found it unacceptable and concluded that it would be deeply disappointing for victims.15 The response did not offer a new way forward for securing compensation and instead reiterated the Government’s existing position.

11.During the period following the report publication, we have continued to raise the issue of HM Government support for victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons. On 14 December 2017, the Chair led a debate in Westminster Hall.16 The Chair emphasised the importance of securing compensation before debates can begin about its distribution.17 We wrote to the Rt Hon. Alistair Burt MP, the former Minister of State for the Middle East on 5 October 2017, to express the Committee’s disappointment with the Government Response, to clarify details of any recent meeting between the Secretary of State and relevant authorities in Libya, and to request the Minister provide the Committee with an update on progress.18 The Minister responded on 15 November 2017 and stated that he regularly raises the issue with Libyan authorities but reiterated the UK’s long-standing position not to espouse the claims of victims.19 We again wrote to the Minister for an update on 19 April 2018.20 The Minister replied on 9 May 2018 and provided an update to the Committee on his travel to Libya and regular contact with Libyan representatives.21


1 McCue and Partners (LSX0021) para 24

3 Oral evidence taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on 9 September 2015, HC (2015–16) 49, Q1–92 [Matthew Jury and Jason McCue, McCue and Partners; William Frazer and Barrie Halliday, Families Acting for Innocent Relatives, Jonathan Ganesh, Docklands Victims Association; Kenny Donaldson and Aileen Quinton, Innocent Victims United]; Q330–396 [Charles Arbuthnot, Susanne Dodd, Mina Jadeja and Pamela White]

4 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 11 December 2018

5 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, para 6

7Terror survivors ‘are taking their own lives’”, Newsletter, 12 February 2019

8 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, para 33

9 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, para 42

10 McCue and Partners (LSX0021), para 73–74

11 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, para 48; Oral evidence taken before the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on 22 March 2016, HC (2015–16) 49, Q116 [Jonathon Dart, former Deputy Head of the North Africa Department in the Foreign Office and Head of the Reconciliation Unit]

12 Frozen assets are assets (such as property or investments) that are owned by an individual or an organisation but cannot be sold or used in any way. Many of these assets were held by Gaddafi or Gaddafi’s inner circle but were frozen to prevent their theft or misuse during the Libyan Civil War. Libyan assets are frozen since 2011 by the UN Security Council resolution 1973 of 2011.

13 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Fourth Report of Session 2016–17, HM Government support for UK victims of IRA attacks that used Gaddafi-supplied Semtex and weapons, HC 49, Conclusions and recommendations

15 Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Committee finds Government response ‘unacceptable’, 15 September 2017

16 HC Deb, 14 December 2017, col 240–260WH

17 HC Deb, 14 December 2017, col 256WH

19 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 15 November 2017

21 The Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP, Minister of State for the Middle East and North Africa, Letter to the Chair, 9 May 2018




Published: 9 April 2019