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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 17:58 GMT 18:58 UK
Unhappy record on Nazi suspects
Antonas Gecas
Mr Gecas will not be extradited
By the BBC's Legal Affairs Correspondent Jon Silverman

The acid comment of a leading Holocaust historian may serve as an epitaph for Britain's unhappy record on Nazi war crimes suspects.

"Old Labour let them in, New Labour let them off ," said Professor David Cesarani.

For some, Antonas Gecas and the decision not to extradite him from the UK, is an apt illustration.

He served with a Nazi police battalion in Lithuania during World War II and is alleged to have committed war crimes including the genocide of Jews.

Arriving in Britain in the 1940s as part of the post-war drive to recruit manpower, he was one of many hundreds of East European immigrants known to have collaborated with the Nazis.

At the time, objections were raised - by a small number of MPs and others.

Anton Gecas
Anton Gecas: Apt illustration
But, by 1948, both the demands of heavy industry and the advent of the Cold War - which turned anti-Soviet refugees from the Baltic States, Ukraine, Poland and elsewhere into valued friends rather than enemies - made such objections peripheral.

For 40 years, very little happened. Until the uncomfortable revelation from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in 1986 that Britain - as much, if not more than South America - had been a haven for war criminals.

If it had not been for the determination of Mrs Thatcher as prime minister it is doubtful if even that would have led to any concerted action.

But faced with the conclusions of an inquiry under two former law officers, Sir Thomas Hetherington and William Chalmers, that there were hundreds of cases which merited further investigation, the House of Commons passed the War Crimes Act in 1991.

They took the view that the criminal law was the best way to deal with the plethora of allegations but time has proved them wrong.

Few UK prosecutions

Out of 400 cases investigated in England and Scotland at a cost of more than 11m, there have been only two prosecutions and only one conviction.

By contrast, the US has used the civil law to strip suspects of their citizenship.

Several dozen have been deported and a few have stood trial abroad.

One, a Ukrainian, was executed in the Soviet Union in 1987.

Jack Straw
Jack Straw: Re-examined options as home secretary
Canada, after several unsuccessful criminal prosecutions, has also turned to the civil law for some kind of justice.

Former Home Secretary Jack Straw asked officials in the Immigration and Nationality Department to look into the options for something similar in the UK.

His successor, David Blunkett, has confirmed that the inquiry is still ongoing but it is too little, too late.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Reevel Alderson reports
"For 16 years there have been allegations of war crimes against him."
The BBC's Jon Silverman
"He was the leader of a police battalion recruited by the Nazis"
The BBC's Asad Ahmad reports
"He is also a diabetic"
Justice Minister Jim Wallace
"This report left no room for doubt"
Dr. Anthony Gleese, adviser to War Crimes Inquiry
"The message we are sending to the Hague tribunal is that we do not really care"
See also:

02 Sep 01 | Scotland
Gecas extradition decision 'made'
21 Aug 01 | Scotland
Doctor to examine war crimes suspect
15 Aug 01 | Scotland
Medical call in Gecas extradition
27 Jul 01 | Scotland
Gecas arrest warrant issued
06 Sep 01 | Scotland
War crimes suspect suffers stroke
02 May 01 | Scotland
Row over Gecas extradition delay
04 Mar 01 | Scotland
Gecas protests his innocence
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