Broadstairs man among group of BA flight passengers held hostage by Iraqi forces in 1990 now taking legal action against government and airline

Barry Manners reunited with dam manager Mr Roel who tried to make hostage conditions bearable

In the early hours of August 2, 1990, a British Airways flight carrying 367 passengers landed in Kuwait amid an invasion by Iraqi forces.

The passengers and crew were taken hostage by Iraqi soldiers for use as human shields against American intervention with some, including Broadstairs’ man Barry Manners, spending four and a half months in captivity, believing they would die.

For three decades the British government did not reveal that the Foreign Office had been warned that the invasion was underway before BA flight 149 landed in the city to refuel.

In 2021 the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) released files covering the events to the National Archive, and then-Foreign Secretary Liz Truss apologised that the warning was never publicly disclosed or acknowledged.

But now some 50 victims, including Mr Manners, are set to take legal action against the UK government and British Airways in a bid to bring the truth of the circumstances to light and finally gain some compensation.

The government has denied the passenger flight, full of people heading to Kuala Lumpur for holidays, was actually being used to transport a Special Forces squad to Kuwait.

But the group, being represented by McCue Jury and Partners, say there is evidence that government and British Airways were aware of the invasion and the aircraft was being used as part of an operation to get a special forces team into the country.

Mr Manners said he and other passengers saw the military task force board after the flight take off was delayed for two hours.

He also says the Minister’s claim that British Airways was not told of the invasion is “untrue” and that the British attaché in Kuwait had informed the airline. The claims are also made by author Stephen Davies in his book Operation Trojan Horse which uses survivor accounts and senior intelligence input to claim  the flight was used for a ‘deniable’ intelligence operation to sneak the military group into Kuwait.

Barry Manners in Iraq in 1990

Mr Manners was 24 years old when he boarded BA flight 149 with his partner who he was caring for at the time due to illness. The pair were headed for a holiday in Kuala Lumpur where his friend’s family lived.

He said: “Eight British military personnel boarded the flight. This was some two hours after we had been scheduled to take off but were delayed. You could tell they were military. This was an 11th hour special forces operation, the government knew about the invasion at that point.

“Tony Paice, the defence attaché and MI6 officer in Kuwait, has broken the official secrets act to say he did brief British Airways about the situation in Kuwait although BA and the government continue to claim they had no knowledge.

Mr Manners was held hostage from August 2 until December 10 and underwent “mock” executions several times, being dragged out and having a gun put to his head before it was fired in the air.

His friend, who was Malaysian, managed to escape by disguising himself as a cleaner.

Mr Manners said: “I was taken to Baghdad and then northern Iraq as a human shield. We were there to be executed if the Americans invaded, either bombed or shot. They even told us the order we would be executed in. I was first because I had upset them a few times and called one a **** and told them what I thought of them and their president. I was a 24 year old…”

Mr Manners and some of the other hostages were held at a dam site and he says the dam engineering manager, Mr Roel, tried hard to make things “as humane as possible.”

He said: “He got us better food than we would have had if it was left to the guards. The bread had weevils in it, it was like Rice Krispies, they would literally snap crackle and pop like space dust. I obsessed about food and would scrape up all the scraps and break into the kitchen at night to take and hoard food. I was convinced they would stop feeding us. I got caught and got a beating.

“There was nothing to do but lay in your bunk and listen to the noise of the dam. It cooled down in the winter but in the summer it was 45 degrees. It was laying there and thinking of England, like John McCarthy said of being held in Lebanon.

“We thought we would be executed or bombed. You just accepted that this could be it and you got used to living with that.”

Mr Manners was among the last of the hostages finally released on December 10, 1990.

He did not receive the compensation being offered by the United Nations due to the volume of paperwork and documents that had to be submitted, including his birth certificate and adoption papers which he did not have.

Mr Manners, who retired to Broadstairs five years ago and is now a beach volunteer and district councillor, says he is still angry 32 years later.

He said: “The French had justice, they went to court and won compensation, the Americans received compensation.

“I lost two to three years of my life before I could adjust to normal society. For many, especially the youngest, they never adapted, their lives were destroyed. Many older people never worked again, their careers were destroyed because, in a moment of hubris, someone decided they could use a civilian airline (for a military operation).

“They gambled with 367 lives and then we became an embarrassment to the government. They downplayed our treatment and portrayed it like we were at a holiday camp. They thought they could lie about it.

“In light of the new evidence the government and British Airways have painted themselves into a corner. So the only way, after 32 years, to find out what happened is to bring it before a judge and hope that they can get to the bottom of it.

“I had three years of my life ruined. Four months when I should have been with my late partner but we did not get to spend that together and it hastened his death too.

“There has never been an explanation or an apology. I am angry I was dismissed with £200 compensation, you’d get more from Thanet council for slipping over in a car park.

“There were some really nasty, dark times coming to terms with what happened, spending those months waiting to be executed, expecting to die every time they opened the door.

“I’m angry at the contempt the elites had and I do not like seeing people being trampled on and bullied so I will continue to fight.”

Mr Manners says the group and lawyers are still hoping more people from the flight or involved with BA in Kuwait will get in touch to make a claim.

He added: “We expect to issue proceedings early in the new year.”

The victims look to receive up to of £170,000 in damages for being used as ‘disposable collateral.’

When the files were released in 2021, Liz Truss said: “The Government has always condemned the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the suffering that followed and the mistreatment of those aboard BA149. The responsibility for these events and the mistreatment of those passengers and crew lies entirely with the Government of Iraq at the time.

“There was speculation at the time and since that the flight was used to carry members of UK Special Forces. The files are consistent with the then Minister for Europe’s statement in April 2007 that ‘the Government at the time did not attempt in any way to exploit the flight by any means whatever’.”

A BA spokesman told the BBC: “Our hearts go out to all those caught up in this shocking act of war just over 30 years ago, and who had to endure a truly horrendous experience.

“UK government records released in 2021 confirmed British Airways was not warned about the invasion.”

Broadstairs man held hostage by Iraqi forces in 1990 brands government statement and apology as “lies”

10 Comments

  1. fortunes of War- get over it, you survived and are alive and have a great dinner party story to tell. The government can only pay you tax payer’s money for compensation and tax payers don’t really care.

  2. Sounds like the sort of thing Thatcher would do.

    Theres rumours that Thatcher knew of the plan of Argentina to invade the falkland islands six months before. She let it happen because it would help her get re-elected once Argentina had surrendered.

  3. Headline ‘Broadstairs man’ I think wow must know him, then read on and he retired here 5 years ago.
    Many young guys never made it home from the Falklands my best mate being one of them, His compensation is the gift of life, already paid.

  4. Something not right with his story ! He says 8 special forces boarded the plane. The whole idea of special forces is to blend in, not to be recognised. He is saying the opposite. I have known a few special forces and you would never know they were.

    This just seems to be another American crazy coming to the uk, I was wronged 30 years ago I’ll sue now.

    • Bang on the button X, our security services are some of the best in the world with stealth being one of the key factors.
      Broadstairs seems to have become a magnet for outsiders with a big chip on their shoulder these days.

      Still, gives our local rag something to focus on I suppose 🙂

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