How Gaddafi’s frozen assets can be used for Canary Wharf’s IRA bombing victims
- Credit: Mike Brooke
Wayne Gruber is on the cusp of getting a pay-out for victims of the IRA’s Canary Wharf bombing 23 years ago.
He beavers away at least 45 hours every week in his fight to get the government to use profits from the £12 billion assets held in London deposited by Libya's Colonel Gaddafi who supplied the IRA with the explosives in 1996.
Earnings from the stash of cash could have been used for the Docklands victims years ago, he discovered—but for a "misinterpretation" of the UN embargo when the Gaddafi regime finally tumbled in 2011.
The 64-year-old's tireless campaigning for 23 years hasn't gone unrewarded, having been given the British Empire Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours earlier this month.
"The award was a total surprise," the commercial facilities contractor revealed. "I told the Cabinet Office I would accept it on behalf of all victims of terrorism as recognition of our campaign after 23 years."
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He plans to display the award on the wall of his tiny third-floor office in the converted Hackney Wick public baths building, as part of his gallery of pictures about the Docklands Victims Association that he co-founded with security guard Jonathan Ganesh.
It was Jonathan, a hero who rescued 23 people from the bombing despite being badly injured himself, who had secretly nominated him to the Cabinet Office for an award, he found out later.
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Wayne worked at Citi Bank International in Canary Wharf in the 1990s and knew Jonathan even before the IRA atrocity.
They would bump into each other in the Bashir family's newsagent's at South Quay before it was wrecked when the Midland Bank HQ was targeted where Jonathan worked the night shift that fateful evening.
"I was four miles away at the time, working out at a gym in Stratford," Wayne recalls.
"We heard an almighty bang and all wondered if the building we were in was okay, thinking it was the gas. Then we heard on the radio that it was Canary Wharf."
The Bashir's son Inam was one of the two men killed, along with John Jeffries, a homeless Irishman they had taken in off the streets and given him a job.
"They were working late in the shop and the shutters were two-thirds down which should have suggested people might be inside," Wayne tells you.
"But the routine nightly security sweep gave the 'all clear' thinking everyone had gone home."
Jonathan recovered in hospital and later teamed up with Wayne to launch the Docklands Victims Association as a support group for the 100 people injured and those bereaved, including families on Millwall's Barkantine estate which took the brunt the blast.
But their work soon took on global political proportions when prime minister Tony Blair brokered a deal in 2007 with Gaddafi to get compensation for American victims of Libyan-sponsored terrorism, including two US citizens injured in the IRA Harrod's bombing. Yet the Docklands and the Northern Ireland victims had been left out of the deal.
Wayne and Jonathan battled on at their Hackney Wick office lobbying Westminster as part of an alliance with Northern Ireland groups to get the same deal.
The breakthrough came in December when it was realised that profits from Gaddafi's frozen assets held in London since his overthrow in 2011 could be used, such as earnings from rents, dividends from investments and bank charges that had built up.
"It came to light in Parliament with a Northern Ireland Affairs committee inquiry bringing the government to task," Wayne explains.
"The government refused to use the funds because of UN sanctions that no sovereign state assets should be touched."
That would have been the end of it—but the MPs were contacted by a Belgian MP claiming that interpretation was wrong. The UN wording was 'no sovereign assets could be touched'—but gains and profits derived from working those assets could be used, as the Europeans and particularly the Belgians had done.
"Some of it could go to the victims," Wayne insists. "The banks holding the assets are partially owned by the people of Britain because the government had bailed them out during the financial crisis. There's certainly the ability to get this done quickly—if there's the will."
The government has since appointed former Charities Commissioner Williams Shawcross to come up with a solution.
The evidence is compelling, Wayne points out, because income from the assets has nowhere else to go.