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Appeal Win for Saudi Jail Britons

Guest Lottie

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Four Britons who say they were tortured in Saudi jails have won their appeal against a High Court ruling that they could not claim damages in the UK.

A Saudi request for Ron Jones's damages claim to be struck out on the grounds of state immunity was granted in 2003.

Three other men accused over a bombing campaign were also told English courts had no jurisdiction over Saudi Arabia.

The Court of Appeal ruling could mean they can sue individuals but not the government, which denies the claims.

Mr Jones, from Crawley in West Sussex, said he was delighted with the ruling which he described as "monumental" and added that he would decide on his next move next week.

"It's taken me three years to get here. This is another step, another hurdle and we will fight on," said Mr Jones, who is orginally from Hamilton, in Lanarkshire.

Mr Mitchell and Mr Sampson had faced the threat of public beheading

A Briton and an American were killed in the bombing campaign in 2000, which the Saudi government blames on a "turf war" connected to expat alcohol dealers.

Others believed it was the work of Islamic militants.

Sandy Mitchell, from Glasgow, and British-Canadian Bill Sampson, from Penrith, faced the threat of public beheading and Mr Jones said he was drugged and beaten during his 67-day detention in 2001.

Along with Les Walker, from Merseyside, they have been trying to clear their names since arriving back in the UK after being granted "royal clemency".

Mr Jones said his injuries meant he was unable to work and last year sought £2.1m compensation at the High Court.

No jurisdiction

But High Court official Master Whitaker "struck out" the claim on the grounds of state immunity and later made the same ruling against the other three men.

While expressing his "greatest sympathy" for Mr Jones, Master Whitaker said the current state of law on immunity deprived him and the English courts of jurisdiction over the Saudi government in the case.

But on Thursday, three Court of Appeal judges ruled that the four men's cases be sent back to Master Whitaker for further argument.

Lord Justice Mance said the courts should consider the evidence and "all relevant factors" at the same time as considering jurisdictional issues.

He said a foreign state cannot have any "absolute right to claim immunity in respect of civil claims against its officials for systematic torture, even committed outside the country" where the claim was filed.

But he said he did not think the ruling would mean England would become a "forum of choice" for torture claims across the world.

Solicitor Geoffrey Bindman said his clients had been subjected to torture while accused of a murder they did not commit.

He said: "So far, the Saudi government has not accepted responsibility for the actions of their officials. It must now do so."

Mr Mitchell added: "It's a step in the right direction that they can't hide behind international law. The law applies to everyone."


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