Police will seek to interview Sir Mark Allen, the former head of MI6’s counterterrorism unit, in connection with allegations of British complicity in the rendition to Libya and torture of two Libyan dissidents, Abdel Hakim Belhadj and Sami al-Saadi, during the Gaddafi era. Sir Mark suffered a stroke in July, and it is understood Metropolitan Police detectives were told that he was not fit enough at that stage to be interviewed over the allegations.
The two men, members of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, were subjected to years of imprisonment and torture after they were returned to Libya in 2004.
Sir Mark’s health had improved sufficiently for him to address an audience of energy experts at Chatham House, London, last week. A spokeswoman for the British Institute of Energy Economics (BIEE), which organised the event, confirmed that it had taken place but, when asked for further details, stated: “Sir Mark gave a talk, not a presentation, and did not want this [the contents] published.”
A source at BP, where Sir Mark has an office, confirmed: “He had the stroke at the beginning of July and he’s making really good progress.”
Sir Mark’s talk was billed as “his personal reflections on the current situation in the Middle East, the advent of the Arab Spring and considerations about its fallout”.
Coincidentally, BIEE’s president is Lord Howell – a former Foreign Office minister who, in that capacity, fielded questions regarding the rendition scandal and who is now William Hague’s personal adviser on energy and resource security. When The Independent on Sunday broke the news of Sir Mark’s BIEE talk to Scotland Yard last week, a spokesman noted the details but declined to comment.
British police launched an inquiry in January after documents discovered during the Libyan uprising suggested that Sir Mark had conspired in the rendition. The allegations were so serious that the police and Director of Public Prosecutions issued a statement saying: “It is in the public interest for them to be investigated now.”
In one of the documents, a letter sent to Gaddafi’s head of intelligence, Moussa Koussa, in March 2004, Sir Mark states that helping get Mr Belhadj to Libya “was the least we could do for you and for Libya to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years”. Sir Mark added: “I was grateful to you for helping the officer we sent out last week.”
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, said: “A man with many secrets has a lot of favours he can call in. I hope he recovers soon enough to reveal some light on a very sordid page of British history. It is time to end the secrecy around Britain’s relationship with Gaddafi, and both the British and the Libyan public deserve some answers.”
Sir Mark is also facing a court battle as a result of a civil legal action that has been brought against him and the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, relating to the rendition and torture allegations. They are cited as key defendants in recently filed court documents that outline the abuse suffered by the two Libyan dissidents after they had been abducted and handed to Gaddafi’s regime with the help of British intelligence.
The documents accuse Mr Straw of misleading MPs about Britain’s role in the rendition and claim that British intelligence officers not only provided Libyan interrogators with questions to ask, but also flew to Tripoli to interview the dissidents.
The Foreign Office, the Treasury Solicitors Department and Burton Copeland, the law firm representing Sir Mark, all declined to comment.
Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Extraordinary Rendition, said last night: “Each claim and counterclaim about Britain’s involvement in rendition only serves to illustrate how vital it is to get to the truth as soon as possible, with a full judge-led inquiry.”