London

Diplomatic staff in London 'commit serious crime'

US Embassy in London
Image caption The US Embassy owes £3.8m in congestion charges

Serious offences including sexual assault and human trafficking were allegedly committed by people with diplomatic immunity in London in 2009.

Foreign Secretary William Hague released details of 18 crimes diplomatic staff have been accused of.

Staff from the Saudi Arabian mission have been suspected of human trafficking and sexual assault.

Nigerian diplomatic staff were accused of actual bodily harm. A Cameroonian allegedly neglected a young person.

A member of the Pakistani embassy was accused of making threats to kill.

Staff with diplomatic immunity from 10 different embassies were caught drink driving, including an employee from the US mission.

The offences are only alleged to have been committed because the immunity means they could not be proved in a court of law.

'Ludicrous'

Some 25,000 people living in the UK have diplomatic immunity.

It is a principle of international law by which certain foreign government officials and their families are protected from criminal jurisdiction, arrest or detention.

Formalised by the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, immunity is intended to help consulate staff do their jobs more easily.

Green Party London Assembly Member Jenny Jones said: "I think it's time for the Foreign Office to renegotiate the terms of diplomatic immunity.

"It seems ludicrous that so many people get away with so many crimes."

A Victim Support spokeswoman said: "Victims and witnesses want justice to be done and to be seen to be done.

"If a decision is made not to prosecute someone the reasons need to be made clear to the victim."

Mr Hague has not made any comment on the issue.

The government also revealed that embassies in London owe more than £36m in unpaid congestion charges since the charge was set up in 2003.

The worst offender, the US, owes in excess of £3.8m.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London Boris Johnson said: "Three-quarters of all foreign missions already pay the Congestion Charge.

"Transport for London continues to press any non-paying embassies to live up to their obligations to their host city and pay the charge."

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