UK

1948 Malayan killings case reaches UK Supreme Court

Relatives at the High Court Image copyright PA
Image caption Relatives of the dead men lost a case at the Court of Appeal last year

Relatives of 24 men killed by British troops in Malaya in 1948 have begun making their case in the UK Supreme Court for a public inquiry.

Five judges are considering whether the UK has a duty under human rights laws to investigate the shooting of villagers at Batang Kali.

The families, who say the men were "massacred", had their case rejected by the UK Court of Appeal last year.

British forces at the time of the killings said the men were insurgents.

Lawyers for the families argue that Britain has a responsibility to commission an independent inquiry under the European Convention on Human Rights - even though the convention was signed after the incident took place.

BBC legal affairs correspondent Clive Coleman said the case was "extraordinary and very troubling".

He said the relatives of the 24 men had fought a "six-and-a-half-decade battle to get the case to the highest court in the land".

Among those attending the Supreme Court proceedings was 78-year-old Madam Lim Ah Yin, who was 11 years old at the time of the killings.

She said: "I want to let them [the judges] know the struggle and hardship that my beloved mother suffered after the death of my dad during the massacre."

The families' solicitor, John Halford, said those killed were "British subjects living in a British Protected State".

"They and their families have a right to meaningful British justice."

Last year, the Court of Appeal heard that at least three of the soldiers who were on patrol and at least five villagers who were at Batang Kali were still alive.

They were told oral evidence from living witnesses, including soldiers and the appellants, would be available to an inquiry.


What is the case about?

Image copyright PA
Image caption Last year relatives said their "journey to seek redress and justice has not come to an end"

On 11 and 12 December 1948 - when Malaya was still a British colony - 24 villagers were killed by a platoon of Scots Guards during a raid at Batang Kali.

The men were Chinese migrant workers suspected by the British of helping rebels during the Malayan Emergency - a conflict between communist guerrillas and British and Commonwealth forces, which lasted 12 years.

An investigation at the time cleared the soldiers of wrongdoing, but in 1970 some of the soldiers said the villagers had been executed.

In the 1990s, authorities in Malaysia opened an investigation, but it was halted before a conclusion was reached.

There have been numerous calls for a public inquiry - all of which have been rejected by the UK.


'Deeply regrettable'

Giving last year's Court of Appeal's ruling, Lord Justice Maurice Kay said it was alleged that 24 civilians were "executed without any justification, and that the authorities thereafter have either covered up what occurred or have been reluctant to take the necessary steps to enable the truth - whatever it may be - to be revealed".

He added: "This has never been accepted by the British authorities, who have maintained that the deceased were shot while they were attempting to escape."

Michael Fordham QC, representing relatives, said that what happened in 1948 remained a "hugely significant and unresolved instance of human rights abuse".

He told the court that, despite the passage of time, it was still worthwhile for "historic wrongs" to be investigated.

The judges acknowledged that the original investigation into the killings had been "woefully inadequate", and said it was "probable" the relatives' case would succeed in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

In 2012, a UK government spokesman called the 1948 incident "deeply regrettable" but said a public inquiry "would not be able to reach any credible conclusions given the length of time passed".

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