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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 July 2007, 20:00 GMT 21:00 UK
MPs critical of Iran stories sale
The sailors detained by Iran
The sailors were freed 13 days after being captured in the Gulf
The decision to allow the sailors and marines seized by Iran to sell their stories to the press has been strongly criticised by a committee of MPs.

The Commons Foreign Affairs committee say it is "wholly unsatisfactory" that an earlier inquiry found no-one to blame for taking the decision.

They also criticise the government for only contacting an Iranian official for help after his television interview.

The eight Royal Navy sailors and seven Marines were captured on 23 March.

It was only after Dr Ali Larijani appeared in a Channel 4 news interview several days after the crisis began, saying that the Britons would not be put on trial, that the government made contact with him.

Blocked release

The Foreign Affairs committee say that this contact with someone who was regarded as a key senior official in Tehran "could and should have been made much earlier".

They also criticise the government's decision to take the issue to the UN, saying that this had the effect of blocking the potential early release of leading seaman Faye Turney, the only woman among the captives.

23 March: Fifteen Royal Navy sailors and Marines from HMS Cornwall seized by Iranian warships in the Gulf
28 March: Iranian state television broadcasts interview with Faye Turney and footage of the servicemen
3 April: Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi calls on Britain to admit its sailors made a mistake
4 April: Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad says Royal Navy personnel will be freed as a "gift" to the UK

The MPs also say some of the crew-members were able to sell their stories despite the clear implications the continuing press coverage would have for Britain's international standing and reputation.

The chairman of the committee, Mike Gapes, said that this was one of the biggest errors of the episode.

"We actually believe that the decision by the Ministry of Defence to allow returning detainees to sell their stories to the media, as described in our report, was a disturbing failure of judgement by the Ministry of Defence, who didn't calculate how this would be interpreted, and how it would play internationally."

The committee also found that good government coordination during the crisis broke down after the release.

'Internal review'

The MPs praised the Foreign Office's diplomacy following the seizure of the troops, finding that "although there may have been some tactical mistakes, it is difficult to fault the FCO's overall approach".

Although the Foreign Office made it known that it would be a significant mistake to allow the crew to sell their stories, deals with the media went ahead.

The committee also says it is wholly unsatisfactory that an inquiry carried out by the former head of BBC News, Tony Hall, failed to find anyone responsible for this decision.

The report stated: "We conclude that although the government was making every effort to resolve the situation quietly through bilateral diplomacy in the first few days of the crisis, its application to speak to Dr Ali Larijani could and should have been made much earlier than 30 March.

"We recommend that, in its response to this report, the government state whether any internal review is being carried out into the lessons learnt from the failure to engage at a sufficiently early stage with the right interlocutors within the Iranian regime."

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell told the BBC it was "absolutely extraordinary" no one had been identified as having taken the decision to allow the stories to be sold.

"This was clearly a decision with enormous ramifications, not least abroad," he said.

"Look at the damage it did to our reputation abroad."

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