'Don't wait till victims of 1996 IRA Semtex Canary Wharf bomb die before Libyans pay compensation' MPs urge
PUBLISHED: 09:39 15 May 2018 | UPDATED: 16:39 15 May 2018
The government must pay compensation after 22 years to victims of the 1996 Canary Wharf bombing by the IRA who were supplied with Libyan Semtex, MPs are demanding.
It could pay now—before the last victims die—and claim the money back from frozen assets in any settlement with the Libyans later, the Commons was told.
Docklands families and other IRA terrorism victims have been left out over the years from compensation which the US, French and German governments secured for their citizens while London has missed opportunities.
The Libyan dictator Gaddafi stashed £7.5 billion in London banks before being overthrown, now believed to be worth nearly £12bn.
But the government won’t touch it because it was seized under EU directives and held under UN edicts and technically “belongs to the Libya people”—a view now rejected by MPs.
The “pay now, claim later” compromise was suggested by Andrew Rosindale, who chairs the Parliamentary support group for victims of Libyan-sponsored IRA terrorism.
“It’s the government’s duty to seize Gaddafi family assets held in London,” he told MPs. “The government should consider a scheme to pay now and claim the money back from Libyan assets in due course. Some victims might not have much longer to live—time is running out.”
MPs were calling for “a fair deal” for families on Millwall’s Barkantine estate which caught the full blast of the Canary Wharf bombing.
Zaoui Berezzag was left paralysed for life after being caught in the blast and is now in a care home in Stepney and still needing 24-hour care.
Tragedy continued to mar the family when his wife Gemma took her life after 20 years of caring for him and facing a brick wall from the government in the campaign for compensation, MPs heard.
Kate Hoey, who sits on the Northern Ireland Affairs committee, told the Commons: “Gemma Berezzag’s family are happy for her suicide in 2016 to be public. Just months before, she had told the press: ‘I need financial help for my husband. I cannot afford the nappies he needs. But the government forgot about me. This is still killing me, 20 years after’.”
Ms Hoey rejected the government claim that the frozen assets could not be used to help Docklands and other IRA victims.
“There are billions sitting in our banks,” she added. “That is a shame if the government cannot find a way to ensure some of it goes to those who are ill and beginning to die off.”
Britain missed an opportunity when Shell signed a £550m deal in 2004 for gas exploration off the Libyan coast to seek compensation, MPs heard. The exclusion of UK victims from the terms of the 2008 US-Libya settlement was another missed opportunity.
Poplar and Limehouse MP Jim Fitzpatrick pointed out: “Billions of pounds of Libyan assets have been frozen and gathering interest in UK bank accounts for years, which had risen to £11.7bn by 2016.
“Many of us do not accept the government’s contention that these funds cannot be accessed. The victims deserve better.”
He praised the work of Jonathan Ganesh, a bank security guard badly injured in the Canary Wharf bombing who set up the Docklands Victims Association to campaign for the families. Jonathan’s two friends, newsagent Inam Bashir and shopworker John Jeffries, were killed in the explosion.
The government acknowledged the “indisputable evidence” showing Semtex supplied by the Gaddafi regime was responsible.
Middle East minister Alistair Burt said: “It is right that we in government do our utmost to help the victims who are determined to seek recompense for what they have suffered.”
He has had talks with Libyan foreign and justice ministers pointing out that Canary Wharf and other IRA victims had no compensation, while victims of direct Libyan acts of terrorism such as Lockerbie had been paid.
The Northern Ireland Affairs committee last May criticised successive UK governments for failing to pursue compensation for victims of Gaddafi-sponsored terrorism, unlike US, French and German governments acting for their citizens.
Jonathan Ganesh, who was trapped in the rubble of the Canary Wharf atrocity, wrote to all 650 MPs before last Thursday’s debate urging them: “Terrorism is the biggest threat to humanity we face today—but we now have an opportunity to make a stand for all victims of terror.”
The MPs and now a government minister agreed the victims should get compensation for their suffering.