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Government spent ‘astronomical’ sum covering up Blair-Gaddafi links

THE government’s legal battle against a dissident and his wife over their rendition to Libya after a tip-off from MI6 cost more than £11 million in public funds.

Abdel Hakim Belhaj was kidnapped and tortured by Muammar Gadaffi’s forces after he was returned to the regime with then pregnant wife Fatima Boudchar in 2004.

The couple were kidnapped and rendered to Libya through a joint MI6-CIA operation linked to former Labour prime minister Tony Blair’s infamous “deal in the desert” with the brutal dictator.

They fought a long battle with the government for compensation, admission of guilt and prosecution.

Last summer, PM Theresa May issued an apology and accepted Britain had shared information with the regime, contributing to their rendition.

That legal battle cost taxpayers more than £11,400,000, as revealed in response to a freedom of information request to the government’s legal department.

The sum included nearly £4.5 million in government legal costs and almost £7m paid to the pair’s lawyers.

Mr Belhaj sued the government, former foreign secretary Jack Straw and the former head of counter-terrorism at MI6, Sir Mark Allen.

He always insisted he would drop his case for an apology, an admission of liability by ministers and a nominal sum of £3 — £1 from each of the defendants.

Katie Taylor, deputy director of human rights group Reprieve, which represented the couple, said: “Abdel Hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar were willing to settle for an apology all along, but rather than admit Britain’s role in their rendition, the government resisted coming clean for years — at astronomical cost to the taxpayer.

“This failed cover-up shows the need for a judge-led inquiry into British complicity in torture.”

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