Passengers and British Airways (BA) crew members who were taken hostage after flying into Kuwait in 1990 are preparing to take legal action against the government – with a law firm claiming they were treated as “disposable collateral” during an “off-the-books military operation”.
The UK government and BA have “concealed and denied the truth for more than 30 years”, it is alleged.
BA Flight 149 landed in the early hours of 2 August 1990 as Iraqi forces crossed the border.
An hour before the plane touched down to refuel, the Foreign Office was warned of the invasion by the then British ambassador to Kuwait, documents released in November 2021 showed.
There has been speculation the flight was being used to insert a UK special forces team into Kuwait.
More than 300 people onboard were detained by Iraqi troops, beginning an ordeal that lasted almost five months.
Some of them suffered post-traumatic stress and were used as “human shields” against Western attacks by Saddam Hussein.
BA has denied being told about the Iraqi invasion – something backed up by Foreign Office files released to the National Archives – while the government has said the blame for the passengers’ ordeal “lies entirely” with the government of Saddam Hussein.
But McCue Jury and Partners said “evidence exists” that the government and BA “knew the invasion had already begun” when they allowed the plane to land because it was being used to insert a team into Kuwait “for a special military operation”.
“Both have concealed and denied the truth for more than 30 years,” said managing partner Matthew Jury.
He added: “The victims and survivors of Flight BA149 deserve justice for being treated as disposable collateral.
“The lives and safety of innocent civilians were sacrificed by the British government and British Airways for the sake of an off-the-books military operation.”
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Saddam Hussein alongside British hostage Stuart Lockwood in August 1990. Pic: AP
Fight for the truth and thousands in compensation
Liz Truss, who was foreign secretary in November 2021 when documents were released, denied the aircraft had been exploited to transport UK special forces.
She said a line of communication between government officials and airline companies did not exist at the time.
Each of the hostages “may claim an estimated average of £170,000 each in damages”, McCue Jury and Partners said.
It added that victims want to ensure the “truth is fully disclosed” and “due compensation is paid” for allowing the flight to land.
The company is appealing for more passengers and crew members on the flight to join the claim, which it intends to take to the High Court in the coming months.
Barry Manners, one of the passengers taking part in the claim, was a 24-year-old businessman at the time.
“We were not treated as citizens, but as expendable pawns for commercial and political gain,” he said,
“A victory over years of cover-up and bare-faced denial will help restore trust in our political and judicial process.”
Barry Manners when he was 24 and being held hostage in Iraq in 1990
Barry Manners (left) and Shammon Roel, resident engineer of the Dukan Dam in Iraq, where Mr Manners was held hostage in 1990
A UK government spokesman said: “The government has always condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the suffering that followed, and the mistreatment of those aboard BA149.
“The responsibility for these events and the mistreatment of those passengers and crew lies entirely with the government of Iraq at the time.”
A BA spokesman added: “Our hearts go out to all those caught up in this shocking act of war just over 30 years ago, and who had to endure a truly horrendous experience.
“UK government records released in 2021 confirmed British Airways was not warned about the invasion.”