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Murdered in the Bath

Early on the morning of 2 November, 1875 James Wheeler Woodford Birch, the first British ‘Resident’ of the Malayan state of Perak, chose the wrong time and the wrong place to take a bath.  For more than a year, Birch, an abrupt cantankerous man, had been struggling to impose his authority on the young state ruler Sultan Abdullah. Birch was under tremendous pressure. Recently widowed and with four young children to support, he was heavily in debt. Although he was building a house in Bandar Bahru fit for a Resident, he was unaware that Governor Sir William Jervois was pondering whether to have him replaced. Birch and the Sultan had clashed repeatedly.  ‘We are unfortunate in the Sultan,’ he wrote to colleagues in Singapore: ‘He riles me awfully. He is so childish.’ Birch deplored Abdullah’s use of opium, and refusal to give up slavery. For his part, the Sultan resisted Birch’s efforts to bring good government to his state or sort out claims by rival rulers. By the beginning of November, the Muslim festival of Hari Raya Puasa, rumours had reached Birch that trouble was brewing. At midnight, on 1 November,  Birch accompanied by a small company of Sepoys, a […]
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The London Trial 2

As I walked into the magnificent Gothic entrance to the Royal Courts of Justice in London, it was difficult not to think of Dickens ‘Bleak House’ and the infamous ‘Court of Chancery’. To be sure, the Royal Courts of Justice was built more than twenty years after Dickens published his excoriating account of the foggy world of English law in practice in 1852/3. The splendid building was designed by solicitor turned architect George Edmund Street in the Gothic style no doubt to evoke the historical depth of English justice. In fact Dickens’ attack on the murky and fustian world of English ‘justice’ was judged out of date when he published ‘Bleak House’ – but the link between the case that underpins his story of ‘Jarndyce and Jarndyce’ and the struggle to persuade the British government to agree to an enquiry into the Batang Kali massacre is worth pondering. As Ian Ward and Norma Mirafor write in their book’ Deception and Slaughter at Batang Kali’, this is a ‘very British cover up. In the case of Dickens’ ‘Court of Chancery’, it is said: “Suffer any wrong that can be done you rather than come here!” His main satirical complaint is the inordinate length […]
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The London Trial 1

For two days in May, the restless spirits of 24 men shot dead 64 years ago by members of a platoon of British soldiers in a Malayan village called Batang Kali haunted Court 3 of the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The incident is often referred to as Britain’s My Lai – referring to the notorious incident during the Vietnam war when ‘Charlie Company’ led by Lt. William Calley murdered between 307 and 504 unarmed civilians on 16 March 1968. This year, after a long campaign, lawyers acting for the relatives of the dead men finally persuaded the British government to reconsider what they assert  is ‘a grotesque, on-going injustice’. Since the killings at Batang Kali, more than six decades ago, British government have refused, time and again, to hold a public enquiry into what took place and why. The legal purpose of the trial was to examine whether the Secretaries of State for Defence and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office acted lawfully by refusing such an enquiry. Although the decision as to whether or not a proper enquiry will at last be given the go ahead will not be known for some time, the proceedings in Court 3 […]
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The whys of Batang Kali

London…7 May, 2012 There was an impressive turn out at the Bindmans press conference this morning – it will be interesting to see how the trial, which begins tomorrow morning, is debated. It was good to meet journalists and writers Ian Ward and Norma Miraflor whose book ‘Massacre and Deception at Batang Kali’ is a pioneering study of the case. After many months of emailing, I was at last able to meet John Halford one of the lawyers at Bindmans who have battled to win justice for the families of the men killed in 1948. There seems to be little disagreement between the different parties – in legal terms Chang Nyok Keyu and others versus Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and Defence – about what happened in the course of two days in December, 1948.Soldiers of the 7th Platoon, G Company, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards entered the plantation village of Batang Kali – by the time their mission had been completed 24 male villagers had been killed. It has been alleged that the platoon was under orders to carry out the fillings. The questions it seems to me are – why were the Batang Kali villagers targeted? […]
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Announcement of Press Conference, Monday 7 May

This is from the web site of Bindmans:  Publication date: 30 April 2012 On 8 and 9 May 2012 the High Court will hear a judicial review test case brought by family members of the 24 unarmed men brutally massacred by British soldiers in 1948 at the village of Batang Kali, Malaya. The family members are seeking a public inquiry or other effective, independent investigation into what happened at Batang Kali, its misrepresentation as lawful and justified by British officials, and the active steps taken to suppress the truth. They will ask the High Court to quash decisions of the Secretaries of State for Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs refusing both that inquiry and investigation. There will be a press conference at 10.30 AM next Bank Holiday Monday, 7 May 2012, at Bindmans  LLP, 4th Floor, 236 Gray’s Inn Road, London with several of the surviving family members, including two who were present as children when the massacre began, their Malaysian and UK-based lawyers and the authors of Slaughter and Deception and Batang Kali. The trial itself begins at 9.30 am on 8 May 2012 in the Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand. Given the importance of the case it […]
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