UK government, British Airways sued over 1990 Kuwait hostage crisis

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Passengers and crew of a British Airways flight who were taken hostage in Kuwait in 1990 have launched legal action against the UK government and the airline, a law firm said Monday.

People on BA flight 149 were taken off the Kuala Lumpur-bound plane when it landed in the Gulf state on August 2 that year, hours after Iraq’s then leader Saddam Hussein invaded the country.

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Some of the 367 passengers and crew spent more than four months in captivity, including as human shields against Western attacks on the Iraqi dictator’s troops during the first Gulf war.

Ninety-four of them have filed a civil claim at the High Court in London, accusing Britain’s government and BA of “deliberately endangering” civilians, said McCue Jury & Partners.

“All of the claimants suffered severe physical and psychiatric harm during their ordeal, the consequences of which are still felt today,” the law firm added.

The action claims that the UK government and the airline “knew the invasion had started” but allowed the flight to land anyway.

They did so because the flight was used to “insert a covert special ops team into occupied Kuwait,” the firm added.

“We were not treated as citizens but as expendable pawns for commercial and political gain,” said Barry Manners, who was on the flight and is taking part in the claim.

“A victory over years of cover-up and bare-faced denial will help restore trust in our political and judicial process,” he added.

British government files released in November 2021 revealed that the UK ambassador to Kuwait informed London about reports of an Iraqi incursion before the flight landed but the message was not passed on to BA.

There have also been claims, denied by the government, that London knowingly put passengers at risk by using the flight to deploy undercover operatives and delayed take-off to allow them to board.

The UK government refused to comment on ongoing legal matters.

British Airways has always denied accusations of negligence, conspiracy and a cover-up.

The airline did not respond to a request for comment from AFP but said last year that the records released in 2021 “confirmed British Airways was not warned about the invasion”.

McCue Jury & Partners had announced in September its intention to file the suit, saying then that the hostages “may claim an estimated average of £170,000 ($213,000) each in damages”.

In 2003, a French court ordered BA to pay 1.67 million euros to the flight’s French hostages, saying it had “seriously failed in its obligations” to them by landing the plane.

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