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Wednesday, 23 February, 2000, 02:59 GMT
PoWs fight Japan in US courts

pows in japan
Prisoners in Japan suffered some vicious treatment

By BBC home affairs correspondent Jon Silverman

Three former British prisoners of war are issuing writs in California to try to win redress for their suffering at the hands of the Japanese.

It is the first time the claimants, who were forced to work for a Japanese mining company during World War II, have tried to gain compensation through the US courts.

Arthur Titherington, Henry Blackham and Fergus McGhie will issue a writ against the Japan Energy Corporation and a California-based subsidiary company, Irvine Scientific Sales Inc.

They chose to take action in the US because Japan Energy operates in California and because the English courts would consider their case "out of time" - in other words, invalid.

Their campaign has already seen unprecedented demonstrations against the Japanese emperor's visit to Britain in 1998 and a claim for compensation in the Tokyo courts.

The outcome will be watched eagerly by many other PoWs who were exploited as slave labour in the Far East during the war.

veterans Veterans turned their backs on the Japanese Emperor in 1998
The men - all in their late 70s or 80s - are each seeking compensation of up to $75,000 for the suffering they endured in the Kinkaseki copper mine in Taiwan - then called Formosa.

The details of the complaint lodged with the court in Los Angeles make harrowing reading.

Arthur Titherington, for example, was a slave mineworker from December 1942 until March 1945.

The document says: "While labouring for the defendants at Kinkaseki, Titherington was given clothing made of paper and cardboard, useless for labour; received paltry food and no medical care... and was subjected to constant beatings.

"The defendants [Japan Energy, then known as Nippon Mining Company] prescribed impossible targets for him and other prisoners to meet, and failing to meet these targets resulted in vicious beatings."

Mr Titherington weighed just 84 pounds when he was liberated by the Americans in 1945.

'Acid murder plan'

He was fortunate to survive, according to an affidavit given by a mine employee at the post-war tribunal, which dealt with Japanese war crimes.

The camp commander was said to have drawn up plans to kill all remaining prisoners with nitric acid "which has already been prepared by the Nippon Mining Company".

arthur titherington Arthur Titherington (centre) is not giving up his fight
By contrast, the state of California passed a law last year which allows such claims to be brought, despite the passage of time.

And one local law firm is said to do virtually nothing but deal with such claims on behalf of PoWs and slave labourers.

The London lawyer representing the three claimants, Martyn Day, says British nationals captured by the Japanese have been treated shabbily by international standards. Under a 1951 treaty, PoWs were paid 76 compensation and civilian internees 48.

But only a few years later, several other countries negotiated more generous settlements for their nationals.

And in 1998, Canada made an ex-gratia payment to its Far Eastern POWs of 10,000 each.

But whatever happens in the California courts, more of the elderly survivors are likely to have died before the outcome is known.

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See also:
27 Sep 99 |  UK
Former PoWs back in Tokyo court
26 Nov 98 |  Asia-Pacific
PoWs lose Japan compensation ruling
26 May 98 |  UK
Survivors' long wait for compensation
30 May 98 |  UK
Emperor's visit 'a success' despite protests
12 Jan 98 |  UK
Japan apologises for wartime suffering

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