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Wednesday, 2 February, 2000, 11:37 GMT
Police make crisis out of drama

Harold Pinter supported Kurds in fight for damages

The Metropolitan Police has agreed to pay 11 Kurds 55,000 for trauma suffered when armed officers stormed a rehearsal of a play about state persecution.

This is a real life horror story of life imitating art
Solicitor Sadiq Khan
Police smashed down the doors of a community centre in Harringay, north London, after reports that armed men in combat gear were pointing guns at people sitting on the floor.

As a police helicopter circled overhead, the refugees were ordered outside, handcuffed and forbidden to speak in Kurdish while they sat in a police van, according to legal papers.

Scotland Yard: Final bill could be 100,000
But it later emerged that the group had been performing Harold Pinter's Mountain Language, first performed in 1988 and inspired by the plight of the Kurds in Turkey.

The actors told local police that they had borrowed guns from the National Theatre for the production, which includes scenes of torture by armed men.

But some of the arrested Kurds suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after the raid in June 1996.

The refugees' solicitor, Sadiq Khan, said: "This is a real life horror story of life imitating art."

Playwright 'horrified'

Mr Pinter, who supported the Kurds in their fight for damages, said in a statement submitted to lawyers: "The play Mountain Language is essentially about people who are not allowed to speak their own language and are persecuted for doing so.

"I was horrified to learn that the Kurds who had been assaulted, handcuffed, arrested and generally badly treated were forbidden to speak to each other in their own language even though this is the only language they know.

"I met with the group after this incident and they told me that they had come to Britain because it was a safe haven."

The final settlement, for Ahmet Yuksel, who was 12 at the time of his arrest, was due to be decided at Central London County Court on Wednesday.

With costs the Metropolitan Police's bill is expected to top 100,000.

Scotland Yard has not admitted liability despite settling the cases.

At the time of the raid, a spokesman said: "Officers attended this incident in good faith.

"Police treat all incidents very seriously, particularly when firearms might be involved and therefore where public safety is of utmost concern."

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See also:
01 Jun 99 |  Entertainment
Harold Pinter takes on Nato
18 Jan 99 |  UK
Black driver alleges police harassment

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