‘So much for standing shoulder to shoulder in the war on terror’
At any given time as an MP, you are dealing with issues that are local, national or even international in nature.
Very rarely do all three dynamics come together in one cause, but that was certainly the case last week when I hosted a debate in Westminster on compensation for the victims of Libyan sponsored IRA terrorism.
On Saturday, December 17, 1983 an IRA car bomb exploded outside the Harrods department store in London.
Among the six people killed in the explosion was Jane Arbuthnot, a 22-year-old woman police constable, whose brother lives in South Suffolk.
Soon after I was elected, I met with Mr Arbuthnot who summarised the campaign he supported with so many other victims which is focused on the fact that Colonel Gaddafi’s Libya had never been held to account for providing the IRA, over many years, with the semtex that enabled them to cause such murderous mayhem.
When I first heard of the campaign, I questioned how realistic it was to expect compensation. After all, Libya’s basic governance is in tatters due to the civil war that followed the topping of Gaddafi’s regime.
However, I felt that the least I could do for a cause where so much had been sacrificed was to probe a little further. I then discovered that compensation had been paid – just not to anyone from the UK.
Specifically, after an exchange of letters with the Foreign Office, I received formal acknowledgement that US citizens killed in the Harrods bomb had, indeed, been compensated by the Libyans in a deal hatched in 2008.
The UK victims, who had fallen on their own soil, received nothing. So much for standing ‘shoulder to shoulder’ in the war on terror.
The contrast in compensation between the UK and the US makes this issue one not only of justice but also of fairness.
Moreover, the differing approaches of each nation was brought into sharp relief the Friday before the debate, held on September 13, when the United States’ Congress unanimously passed a bill that would allow victims of the 9/11 atrocity to sue the Saudi Arabian government for their alleged involvement in the world’s most deadly-ever terrorist attack.
As I said in the debate, whatever one thinks of the allegation that Saudi government officials may have had a hand in 9/11, the move by Congress upped the ante for our own experience with the IRA and Libya, given that the US legislature was effectively giving US citizens more power to pursue potential ‘state sponsored terrorism’.
As with the recent investigations into allegations of historic sexual abuse that occurred decades ago, hopefully it confirms that for those who commit vile acts, the past does eventually catch up with them.