Supreme Court admits British troops committed ‘mass murder’ – Malaya massacre lawyer
The Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the appeal brought by relatives of the 23 men killed in the attack – referred to as Britain’s ‘My Lai’ after a similar atrocity carried out by US troops in Vietnam – would not be upheld.
The Malayan Emergency was fought from 1948 to 1960 in what is modern-day Malaysia between Commonwealth armed forces, including thousands of British troops, and anti-colonial guerrillas.
The UK’s involvement stemmed largely from British ties to tin and rubber interests which were seen as critical to the UK’s post-war recovery.
Men from the British Scots Guards regiment were responsible for the attack. The long campaign by the families of the victims has spilled into another row about when cases of colonial brutality are allowed to disappear into history.
John Halford, of Bindmans solicitors, representing the Batang Kali families, told the court: “On 12 December 1948, British soldiers left the bodies of 24 innocent, unarmed men riddled with bullets and the British government left their families without a credible explanation.”
He maintained the courts had denied the families an explanation but did acknowledge “the innocence of those killed, the failures to investigate and the ‘overwhelming’ evidence of mass murder.”
Halford said the UK has been found responsible and should now apologize, “withdraw the false account given to parliament,” and address the issue “including by funding a memorial.”
“If it does not, the blood of those killed at Batang Kali will indelibly stain the concept of British justice.”
Speaking to RT, one veteran of the conflict also criticized the court’s response.
Walter Heaton, 84, who was sent to Malaya in 1948 with the Scots Guard sister regiment the Coldstream Guards, told RT there is “no run-out date on justice.”
“Murder is murder. There should [be] no limit on justice,” he said, questioning why dire conditions in the “concentration” camps used to forcibly house Malayans were not discussed more in the case.
At a prison-like facility named Kampong Coldstream, which was run by his regiment, Heaton said conditions were awful. People were only put there after being rounded up in clearance operations.
He recalled watching “kids crying as soldiers burned their food and their things,” before taking the families away to the camps.
Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, ruled the case is too old to re-open, a move which could affect a number of cases of abuse and violence by British security forces during the Northern Irish Troubles.
Neuberger conceded the “evidence that came to light” was “compelling and suggests that the killings were unlawful” but said the shootings had occurred before a crucial ‘right to petition’ was recognized by British courts.
In April, ahead of the appeal, Halford said “when six of [the soldiers] have confessed to murder, eyewitnesses remain alive and forensic tests can confirm the killings were close-range executions, the law should demand an answer from the state.”
“After all, those killed were British subjects living in a British-protected state,” he added.