UK ‘losing battle to bring war criminals to justice’

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THE vexed issue of war criminals living with apparent impunity in the UK shows little sign of resolution with a leading MP expressing particular concern about the response of Ministers and the UK Border Agency to the problem.

Michael McCann, chairman of the All Party Group for the Prevention of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity, is also frustrated that the UKBA and Metropolitan Police appear to be working down separate tramlines, potentially leaving substantial gaps in the system.

At the heart of his concern is the disparity in the number of suspects on the UKBA’s books, compared with the Met, which has responsibility for investigating war criminals.

UKBA’s statistics from 2005 to the end of 2011 show nearly 700 suspected war criminals have been identified in the immigration system, yet the number of cases being investigated by the Met Police, although not publicly acknowledged, is in the tens.

Mr McCann is concerned that the UKBA may be over-recording the number of cases but also suspects genuine cases are not facing criminal investigation because officials are failing to notify the Met quickly enough.

“The (UKBA) figures make interesting reading and if they are accurate they show an alarming trend which suggests that our procedures don’t allow us to deal with individuals who may have committed or participated in serious crimes,” he said. “That said, I remain unconvinced by the methodology used by the Home Office to produce these numbers.

“I have discussed these matters directly with the Metropolitan Police and their active case numbers don’t appear to match the Home Office figures.

“For that reason I have been pursuing Home Office Ministers with a view to establishing exactly how many people are living in the UK who may committed such crimes and most importantly to determine whether our vetting procedures are robust enough to identify potential criminals more swiftly.

“The length of time I have waited for a response from Ministers has been utterly shocking and demonstrates that, in my opinion, UKBA is not on top of this.

“People would rightly be shocked to discover that someone living in their street may have participated in horrible, brutal crimes but are still able to roam free in the United Kingdom.”

The UKBA insisted it had a robust policy towards suspected war criminals but offered no further comment.

War crimes and crimes against humanity are investigated by a nine-strong group of detectives within the Met’s counter terrorism command but the complex demands of securing evidence for offences which may have taken place thousands of miles away means the number of prosecutions, or even arrests, has been negligible.

A Met spokeswoman said: “This is a sensitive area of work with a number of issues that need to be taken into consideration including the relationship with other parties involved in the investigation and identifying those involved in the inquiry whether as victims, witnesses or suspects.”

With a high evidential bar set in guidance agreed by the Director of Public Prosecutions, many suspects identified by the UKBA may simply be unsuitable for a police inquiry. To complicate matters further, some suspects may not be genuine and may instead by playing the system in the knowledge that a false admission, difficult to verify either way, could ensure they are not returned to their country of origin on the grounds they might face retribution.

The situation also frustrates human rights campaign groups like Redress which are pressing for more people to be held accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Although the group acknowledges the picture is not clear, it says the number of suspects in the UK “appears to be considerable”.

As well as questioning whether the UKBA is efficiently referring cases to the police, a Redress spokesman added that the group was “also concerned that the police are not sufficiently resourced to carry out proper investigations. For example, since 1988 when torture became a crime in the UK no matter where it was committed, there has been only one prosecution.

“This is in stark contrast to other countries, as for instance in the Netherlands or Belgium, where specialised war crimes units within the police and prosecution authorities work together with immigration authorities to ensure that these types of suspects are prosecuted where possible.”