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Mr R H Mhatre

Volume 447: debated on Monday 6 February 1984

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4.16 p.m.

My Lords, with the leave of your Lordships' House, I will now repeat a Statement being made in another place by my right honourable and learned friend the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows:

"With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a short Statement.

"I deeply regret to have to tell the House that Mr. R. H Mhatre, an Assistant Commissioner in the Birmingham office of the Indian High Commission, was found dead at about 10 p.m. yesterday near Hinckley in Leicestershire. It is clear from the circumstances and the nature of his injuries that he was murdered. Mr. Mhatre had been kidnapped close to his home in Birmingham at about 6 p.m. on Friday, 3rd February.

"I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in expressing sympathy to Mr. Mhatre's family. The Prime Minister has sent a message of sympathy to Mrs. Gandhi, and I have sent a similar message to the High Commissioner.

"An organisation calling itself the Kashmir Liberation Army claimed to have kidnapped an Indian diplomat. It made demands for the release of prisoners in India and for the payment of money. It threatened to kill the diplomat if its demands were not met.

"The Chief Constable of the West Midlands police has been in charge of the case from the beginning. I have been in close touch with him throughout and have given every assistance I can. The police have given the case the highest priority and are making every effort to bring those responsible to justice. I shall, of course, give the police any further assistance they require in the investigation. Arrangements have been made to enhance the protection given to Indian diplomatic staff.

"The seriousness with which this matter is being pursued and the fact that I have reported to the House at the earliest opportunity underline the Government's determination to stand firm against terrorists and their violence. There can be no place whatsoever for either in this country."

My Lords, that completes the Statement.

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord the Minister for carrying out the sad duty of repeating the Statement made in another place, may I associate my noble friends most sincerely with the expression of sympathy to Mr. Mhatre's family in their tragic bereavement? If I may, I should like to ask a few questions for elucidation. One notices in the Statement that the Kashmir Liberation Army is mentioned as the organisation which claims to have carried out—if that is the appropriate expression—this outrageous act. Have we any information at all about such an organisation? Have we had any experience of that organisation before now?

One also notices from the Statement that the noble Lord the Minister mentioned that the kidnapping took place at about six o'clock in the evening on Friday, 3rd February. There has been a press account—I do not know whether or not the noble Lord can confirm its correctness—that on the evening of that very Friday a packet was sent by this Kashmir Liberation Army to Reuters news agency and that the packet contained documents. Did that packet, if this is true, relate to this matter? Was it promptly handed over to the authorities and, so far as the Minister is at present aware, was prompt action taken in regard to such documents as there were?

Lastly, may I put this question? The noble Lord the Minister referred to protection being given to the Indian diplomatic corps. I believe it to be right that India has missions in London. Birmingham, Liverpool and Glasgow but that up to this moment only the High Commission in London has had the protection of the armed police of the diplomatic protection group. Can the noble Lord confirm that protection will now be accorded at all the centres I have mentioned and not only to the Indian diplomatic corps? Cannot the protection that is given in London to members of the diplomatic corps similarly be afforded to them in the provinces?

My Lords, we, too, are appalled by this news and would wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy both to Mr. Mhatre's family and to the Indian Government.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords for their sympathetic reception of this tragic news. So far as I am aware, the Kashmir Liberation Army had not come previously to notice in any form. I can tell the noble Lord that the package to which he refers was an envelope pushed through the letterbox of a building occupied by Reuters at one o'clock on the morning of 4th February. It contained two documents. The first stated that an Indian diplomat had been kidnapped by the Kashmir Liberation Army and would be killed if the listed demands were not met. The second was a copy of a letter purporting to have been sent by that body to the Secretary-General of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front. It asked that that body should act as an intermediary. The deadline was at seven o'clock. Reuters informed the Metropolitan Police, who in turn notified the Indian High Commission and the West Midlands police. All that had been completed by six o'clock that same morning.

The noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, raised another point. He gave the locations of the Indian diplomatic missions correctly. He is correct in assuming that protection is being extended to them. I could not commit my right honourable friend to what I imagine would be the large resources of a commitment to extend similar protection to every diplomatic outpost around the country'. I am reluctant to be drawn further because security discussed is never altogether secure.

My Lords, obviously, I take what the noble Lord the Minister has just said in the proper sense. I should not wish to press him in view of the words that he used and in view of the care that one should exercise. Will he at least undertake to the House to take to his right honourable friend the concern of the House—this being the second time in recent years that a diplomat on our shores has met with the results of severe criminal acts—that diplomatic missions should have proper protection?

My Lords, I will take the concern of the noble Lord to my right honourable friend.