Ombudsman condemns MoD for 'disgraceful and unfair' treatment of wartime internees
Guardian 14 Sep 2011: "A family who were repeatedly denied compensation for their internment during the second world war were treated disgracefully by the Ministry of Defence, which acted in an "extraordinarily insensitive" way towards them, the parliamentary ombudsman has ruled." The story continues:
In a scathing report, Ann Abraham said the department had forced the family to relive their ordeal time and again, while stubbornly refusing to pay them thousands of pounds in compensation.
Abraham said she had ordered the MoD to pay the money and demanded ministers apologise – recommendations that have both been accepted. She said the case was "the worst example I have seen in nearly nine years ... of a government department getting things wrong and then repeatedly failing to put things right or learn from its mistakes".
The episode centres on compensation offered to Britons who were interned by the Japanese in Singapore.
In 2000, the government set up an "ex-gratia" scheme to provide payments to internees who had survived imprisonment by the Japanese. This was intended to recognise the "debt of honour" for the treatment meted out to them because they were British.
One man, known as Mr A, and his siblings, applied to the scheme, but were refused payment because they failed a so-called "blood-link" test – essentially, they were not deemed British enough. Mr A was born in British Malaya.
The family, who wanted to remain anonymous, fought the decision and received £500 and an apology. In 2007, the MoD set up a second "injury to feelings" scheme, designed to compensate families left out of the first one. Despite being invited to apply by the MoD, Mr A's family was turned down again. They were also told that the "previous apology and payment had been given to them in error".
Abraham described the MoD's behaviour as "disgraceful and unfair".
The family challenged the decision and, though Mr A has since died, his wife and his siblings will now receive the compensation he fought for. ...
Abraham said the MoD had aggravated Mr A's distress in the last years of his life, and she described the retraction of the first apology as "offensive and incorrect".
"Those failings are unacceptable in any context," said Abraham. "In the context of a compensation scheme intended to recognise the unique circumstances and exceptional suffering of British people held captive in the far east during the second world war, they were unforgivable."
Mr A's widow, who now lives in Australia, and 11 of his siblings, will each be paid £4,000 compensation and a further £5,000 each for the distress they have suffered. The MoD has also been forced to offer compensation to other people in this position. ...
The minister for veterans, Andrew Robathan, admitted the ombudsman's report had highlighted "significant failings by the Ministry of Defence in dealing with these and other similar cases".
He added: "The payments to Mr A's family have already been made and my officials have identified a very small number of similar cases.
"While we cannot be answerable for the conduct of the previous government ... I offer my sincere apologies for the distress, anger and frustration caused to this family throughout this long and painful period. I hope an injustice has now been fairly rectified."
- Full article, by Nick Hopkins, Defence Editor, The Guardian 14/09/11: MoD condemned for 'insensitive' treatment of ex-war prisoners
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