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Hostages of Iraq forces in Kuwait sue British Airways, UK government for negligence

July 1, 2024 at 8:07 pm

British Airways at John F. Kennedy International Airport [Photo by James Leynse/Corbis via Getty Images]

The crew and passengers on a British Airways flight over thirty years ago are suing the airline and the British government for allegedly allowing them to fly to Kuwait during the Iraqi invasion of the country, leaving them subject to months of detention and abuse.

On 2 August, 1990, the British Airways’ BA149 flight to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, landed at Kuwait International Airport for a scheduled stopover but, much to the surprise of the plane’s crew and passengers, Iraqi armed forces had begun their invasion of Kuwait.

The 18 crew members and 367 passengers were then taken hostage, detained at the IBI military camp in Kuwait, and used as human shields by Iraqi forces. Their ordeal lasted for up to five months, during which time they were reportedly subjected to torture, rape, mock executions, starvation and other forms of abuse.

Now, they are suing for negligence and joint misfeasance in public office, with 95 people filing the claims against the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Cabinet Office, the Ministry of Defence and British Airways.

The case claims to have evidence that BA and the government knew that the invasion had taken place hours before the plane landed in Kuwait, as well as that the flight was used to secretly transport and deploy a Special Forces team for covert operations in the country “regardless of the risk this posed to the civilians onboard”.

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The first part was revealed as much when documents were released around three years ago to the National Archives that showed the UK’s ambassador in Kuwait had warned the British Foreign Office that Iraq had already invaded the small Gulf state before the BA flight landed at the airport.

Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary at the time, then admitted that the government had been covering up that warning for decades, but claimed that the warning had not been given to the airline. She also claimed that London “did not seek to exploit the flight in any way by any means whatsoever” with regards to the presence of Special Forces on board the plane.

The claimants’ lawyers insist that BA did, indeed, know of the invasion, however, and that a covert special operations team was on board.

According to Matthew Jury, the managing partner of the claimants’ law firm, McCue Jury & Partners LLP, the “victims and survivors of flight BA149 deserve justice for being treated as disposable collateral. HMG [her majesty’s government] and BA watched on as children were paraded as human shields by a ruthless dictator, yet they did and admitted nothing. There must be closure and accountability to erase this shameful stain on the UK’s conscience.”

One of the flight’s cabin crew members, Nicola Dowling – who was 23 at the time of the incident – recalled her two-month-long detention in occupied Kuwait and the Iraqi forces’ deployment of her as a human shield. “Not being believed and denied justice all these years has been hideous,” she said. “It was all very well for [Margaret] Thatcher to say Saddam Hussein is hiding behind women and children. She bloody well sent us in there, presented us to him on a plate for him to use. She was as complicit in this as he was, as was BA.”

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