Hostage passengers sue British Airways over landing during 1990 Iraqi invasion

British Airways Boeing 747-100 G-AWND
Ian Gratton / Creative Commons

British Airways passengers and crew members are taking legal action against the airline and the British government over “wrongful and negligent actions” that saw their flight land in Kuwait after an Iraqi invasion of the country had already begun.  

On the evening of August 1, 1990, flight BA149 departed from London-Heathrow Airport (LHW) and set off for Kuala Lumpa, Malaysia, with a scheduled refueling stop at Kuwait International Airport (KWI). 

During the Boeing 747-136 flight, under the leadership of the former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, forces invaded Kuwait and on August 2, 1990, British Airways passengers and crew were taken hostage.  

Over the next five months the hostages were subjected to rapes, mock executions and starvation at the hands of their captors.  

According to legal firm McCue Jury & Partners the action against the UK government and British Airways alleges that the British Government and British Airways allowed the flight to land in Kuwait, “despite knowing that Iraqi Armed Forces had already overrun the country”. 

In a statement published on July 1, 2024, McCue Jury & Partners said that “evidence demonstrates that BA149 was used to secretly transport a special ops team for immediate and covert deployment to the battlefield, regardless of the risk this posed to the civilians onboard”. 

The legal firm claims that after the plane landed in Kuwait a group of men disembarked the aircraft leaving other passengers and crew members on board. 

The British government has previously stated that it was unaware about the invasion while the flight was in the air, but McCue Jury & Partners claims documents released from the National Archives under the 30-year rule showed this to be untrue.  

‘We were not treated as citizens but as expendable pawns’

According to the Independent, documents released in November 2021 revealed that the UK government were informed by the British ambassador in Kuwait that Iraqi forces had invaded an hour before the flight landed. 

It’s claimed this information was never passed to British Airways and the aircraft, registered G-AWND, was never diverted.  

“The lives and safety of innocent civilians were put at risk by the British government and British Airways for the sake of an off-the-books military operation. Both have, we believe, concealed and denied the truth for more than thirty years. The victims and survivors of Flight BA149 deserve justice for being treated as disposable collateral. HMG and BA watched on as children were paraded as human shields by a ruthless dictator, yet they did and admitted nothing. There must be closure and accountability to erase this shameful stain on the UK’s conscience,” said Matthew Jury, Managing Partner at McCue Jury & Partners. 

The legal action claims that contact between the British Embassy in Kuwait and British Airways on August 1, 2024, showed that “flights the following day were inadvisable, but while BA could assume further govt advice would be forthcoming, it never came”. 

The claim specifically against British Airways “centers on their duty of care to passengers and crew and that they had advice that flights to Kuwait were ‘unadvisable’. No adequate risk assessment was taken, else the flight would have been diverted”. 

Who are the claimaints?

A ‘Letter Before Action’ was sent on behalf of 95 claimants from nine different countries on July 1, 2024, with the UK’s Foreign Office, Cabinet Office and Ministry of Defense along with BA all involved.    

The claimants include passengers on board BA149, inbound BA crew members on board BA149 and crew members who were already in Kuwait awaiting onward deployment on BA149. 

“Each Claimant has their own story and suffered varying degrees of physical and/or psychiatric harm because of their treatment while held hostage by the Iraqi Armed Forces,” McCue Jury & Partners said.  

The legal firm added: “The Claimants are seeking damages for their injuries (both physical and psychiatric), special damages for their consequential losses, and aggravated and punitive damages due to the Government and British Airways alleged wrongdoing. Having been lied to for so many years, they are also seeking vindication of their rights and for the truth to be finally adjudicated in Court.” 

Commenting on the action, former BA passenger and hostage, Barry Manners, said that they were treated as “expendable pawns” and the events have been years of “cover-up and bare-faced denial”. 

In a statement to AeroTime, the UK’s Cabinet Office said: “We do not comment on ongoing legal matters.” 

AeroTime has also contacted British Airways, the Ministry of Defense and the Foreign Office for comment.  

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