Father of Briton killed in gas plant raid seeks access to Algerian evidence
Algerian judge understood to oppose publication of documents disclosed to British inquest until suspects’ criminal trial
Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent, The Guardian, 15 September 2014
The father of one of the seven British hostages killed in a jihadist attack on a north African gas plant has expressed fears that the truth about their deaths may never be revealed because Algerian authorities are withholding vital documents.
The inquest into the deaths of the British workers in January last year will open formally on Monday at the Royal Courts of Justice in London. Photographs and interviews handed to the coroner will not be disclosed to the families during the hearing.
David Green’s 47-year-old son, Stephen, was one of those murdered during the assault by al-Qaida-linked Islamists on the Tiguentourine gas facility near In Amenas, Algeria. The plant was jointly run by BP, the Norwegian oil group Statoil and Algerian state company Sonatrach.
Green said the families were told that new information had come from the Algerian government, but were subsequently informed that they could not see it.
The criminal trial of the surviving attackers is yet to take place and the Algerian judge is understood to oppose publication of the documents until that hearing. He is said to have invited the families to attend the trial in Algeria and promised they will eventually be shown the withheld photographs and interviews.
« The Algerians could have been responsible for my son’s death, » Green said. « We just don’t know. There were Algerian helicopter gunships flying overhead when the cars carrying the hostages left the accommodation area and drove towards the centre of the plant. There’s no pictures and no forensics from the scene which we should have had. »
Stephen Green was an engineer who specialised in health, safety and environmental protection. He worked on Heathrow Express and spent many years on oil projects in Kazakhstan. He had been a full-time BP employee since 2012.
« He was highly regarded by his colleagues who described him as a professional and a gentleman, » his father said. The Stephen Green Music Foundation has been set up in his memory to fund disadvantaged musicians. Stephen took a guitar with him wherever he travelled.
« He was very practical and generous. We are very proud of him. We want to get at the truth; you can’t have justice without truth. Otherwise we will never get the complete picture, » Green said.
Stephen lived near the gas plant in accommodation that was protected only by a fence and unarmed guards, according to Green. « There were supposed to be gendarmes but they fled, » he said. « The Algerian army was based an hour’s drive away. »
The family know that after the initial attack on the gas plant on 16 January 2013, Stephen’s legs and feet were bound. « Explosive cords were laid around their bodies. I don’t know whether the terrorists’ purpose was to destroy the gas plant or make money out of the hostages – or both, » David said.
« After they were surrounded by the Algerian army [the terrorists] decided to make a dash for the gas plant. They put a number of the hostages into vehicles. There were explosives in the vehicles and several of them exploded. There was gunfire from the terrorists and the army.
« The vehicle my son was in was not destroyed and some of the other hostages in his car escaped. The Metropolitan police took a day and a half to get a visa and they were on the site after the Algerian army. There’s very little information apart from that of the surviving witnesses. My son’s body was not found until nearly two weeks after the attack. »
Thirty-nine hostages, an Algerian guard and 29 militants were killed over several days after the raid led by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, whose Islamist group Those Who Sign In Blood roamed across the Sahara. Three of the militants were captured and are awaiting trial.
One of the stated purposes of the inquest is to « consider the security of the site and whether or not there was any information known or held relating to the impending attack ». It will be presided over by Judge Nicholas Hilliard QC.
The senior coroner for West Sussex, Penelope Schofield, had overseen the inquests until this month. She said: « The information has been provided to me by the Algerian authorities on the basis that it should not be further disseminated or made public because it relates to the criminal cases being prepared in Algeria.
« I have not obtained the consent of the Algerians to share that material. The [Algerian] judge has disclosed it to me on the basis of judge to judge. The judge has offered all the families access to this material at the criminal trial so it’s not the case that they will never see it. »
Under Algerian law, suspects can be held for up to 56 months before they have to be brought to court. Schofield said the information had been passed to Hilliard but would have no influence on the inquest, except that it would prevent any finding being made that was proved to be inaccurate by the secret Algerian evidence.
The other men who died were Garry Barlow, Carson Bilsland, Sebastian John, Paul Morgan, Carlos Estrada Valencia, and Kenneth Whiteside.
David Green has written to the Algerian embassy pleading with them to reverse the judge’s decision. He wrote: « My family is very distressed no information of any kind from the Algerian authorities has been made available to the family legal teams.
« There has been no Algerian police report, no witness statements, no diagrams, no forensic evidence, no photographs, no CCTV footage and no mobile phone pictures. Algerian workers were allowed to walk around taking pictures of foreign hostages. »
The Foreign Office said: « Her Mastegy’s Government is co-operating fully with the coroner’s investigation into deaths at the In Amenas gas plant in Algeria in January 2013. The Algerian authorities have cooperated with the coroner’s requests. Inquests are entirely independent from government. »
The Algerian embassy did not comment on the inquest