15 September 2011
The Ministry of Defence and Service Personnel and Veterans Agency have been admonished for their 'disgraceful' treatment of a family applying for compensation after being interned by the Japanese during World War II.
Parliamentary Ombudsman Ann Abraham said the MoD and the SPVA's treatment of an internee known as 'Mr A' and his family had been "unfair", "extraordinarily insensitive" and was the worst example of "a government department getting things wrong and then repeatedly failing to put things right or learn from its mistakes" that she had seen.
Mr A, who was interned with his family by Japanese troops in Singapore in 1945, applied for compensation in 2000 after a scheme was set up to recognise the 'debt of honour' owed to British prisoners of war and civilian internees. His initial application was rejected but following a complaint to the ombudsman the government apologised and paid Mr A £500.
Mr A and family were then invited to apply to a second scheme which had been set up in 2007 to compensate those wrongly rejected by the first scheme, but their 2007 application was refused and the family were told the previous payment and apology had been in error.
At the time, Mr A, who died during the second investigation, said the family relived traumatic memories as a result of its protracted dealings with the Ministry of Defence which had amounted to "not just mental anguish, but torture".
Abraham criticised the MoD for "incorrectly and offensively" retracting its initial apology.
"Those failings are unacceptable in any context. In the context of a compensation scheme intended to recognise the unique circumstances and the exceptional suffering of British people held captive in the Far East during the Second World War - to whom Britain owed a debt of honour -they were unforgiveable," said Abraham.
The ombudsman's latest report includes a number of recommendations, all of which the MoD is said to have accepted. They include agreeing to pay Mr A's widow and his 11 siblings £4,000 each as per the compensation scheme and a further £5,000 each in recognition of the distress caused. Defence Secretary Liam Fox is also to apologise personally to all involved.
The MoD will also review all other applicants to the 2007 compensation scheme and will offer people in similar circumstances the £4,000 payout.
Veterans minister Andrew Robathan said the report had exposed "significant failings" by the Ministry of Defence in administering the scheme.
"The payments to Mr A's family have already been made and my officials have identified a very small number of similar cases," he said.
"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."