LONDON: Passengers and crew of a British Airways flight who were taken hostage in Kuwait in 1990 have launched legal action against the UK government and the airline, a law firm said on Monday.

People on the BA flight were taken off the Kuala Lumpur-bound plane when it landed in Kuwait on Aug 2 that year, hours after Iraq invaded the country.

Some of the 367 passengers and crew spent more than four months in captivity, including as human shields against Western attacks on Iraqi troops during the first Gulf war in 1991.

Ninety-four of them have filed a civil claim at the High Court in London, accusing Britain’s government and BA of “deliberately endangering” civilians, said McCue Jury & Partners.

“All of the claimants suffered severe physical and psychiatric harm during their ordeal, the consequences of which are still felt today,” the law firm added.

The action claims that the British government and the airline “knew the invasion had started”, but allowed the flight to land anyway.

They did so because the flight was used to “insert a covert special ops team into Kuwait”, the firm added.

“We were not treated as citizens but as expendable pawns for commercial and political gain,” said Barry Manners, who was on the flight and is taking part in the claim.

“A victory over years of cover-up and bare-faced denial will help restore trust in our political and judicial process,” he added. British government files released in Nov 2021 revealed that the UK ambassador to Kuwait had informed London about reports of an Iraqi invasion before the flight landed, but the message was not passed on to BA.

There have also been claims, denied by the government, that London knowingly put passengers at risk by using the flight to deploy undercover operatives and delayed takeoff to allow them to board. The UK government refused to comment on ongoing legal matters.

British Airways has always denied accusations of negligence, conspiracy and a cover-up. The airline did not respond to a request for comment, but it said last year that the records released in 2021 “confirmed British Airways was not warned about the invasion”.

McCue Jury & Partners had announced in September its intention to file the suit, saying then that the hostages “may claim an estimated average of 170,000 pounds ($213,000) each in damages”.

In 2003, a French court ordered BA to pay 1.67 million euros to the flight’s French hostages, saying it had “seriously failed in its obligations” to them by landing the plane.

Published in Dawn, July 2nd, 2024

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