Foreign Office apologises over handling of Matthew Hedges torture case. Department’s top official acknowledges profound impact UAE detention had on British academic.
The UK Foreign Office has formally apologised to the academic Matthew Hedges for its handling of his arrest and subsequent torture by the United Arab Emirates.
The apology was recommended by the parliamentary ombudsman after Hedges filed a complaint.
In a letter signed by the Foreign Office’s top official, the permanent undersecretary Sir Philip Barton, it acknowledged the profound impact the arrest had on Hedges and the injustice he faced. Hedges was given £1,500 in nominal compensation, as recommended.
Barton said the Foreign Office’s handling of Hedges’s arrest was not in line with its guidelines on how to look for signs of torture, but added that in practice it led to the same outcome as if the guidelines had been followed.
He said the Foreign Office urgently sought with UAE officials further consular visits with Hedges even though the case was not formally referred to the department’s human rights adviser as the guidelines suggest.
Hedges welcomed the apology but said it was baffling that the British government still wanted such close relations with a Gulf partner that had mistreated British people.
In a report published last month, the ombudsman found that at every meeting with a Foreign Office consular official, the UAE guards allegedly responsible for Hedges’ torture were present, making it impossible to be open about his mistreatment.
Foreign Office apologises over handling of Matthew Hedges torture case
He was arrested in May 2018 at Dubai airport on suspicion of being a British spy and then released after a media campaign led to his pardon in November 2018. He had been sentenced to life imprisonment.
In the recommended letter of apology, Barton said he recognised “the profound impact of your detention in UAE on you and the injustice you have faced”.
He added: “On behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office [FCDO], I acknowledge, and apologise for, the failing identified by the ombudsman, specifically I recognise that we did not fully follow our guidance on torture and mistreatment and that this failure has left you uncertain as to whether more could have been done on your behalf.”
Barton said he recognised that “this has been an emotional and distressing experience that may have a long-lasting impact on your life”.
The Foreign Office has previously agreed to review its internal guidance on cases where there are allegations of or concerns about torture and mistreatment, and to provide in-person training for all consular staff on how to handle such detentions.
The Foreign Office has also agreed to be more specific about the support it will provide to British citizens in difficulties abroad.
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