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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 14:14 GMT

UK: Wales

Spanish fishermen compensation victory

The Law Lords have ruled in favour of the Spanish fishermen's claim

The Government has lost its challenge to a High Court decision to allow Spanish fishermen based in west Wales to claim compensation.

The Law Lords have ruled in favour of the fishermen and the Government could now face a bill estimated at up to £80m.

Thirty boats run by Spanish firms were operating from Milford Haven in the late 1980s when the Government passed a law imposing strict nationality conditions on the companies.

This prevented them from working and forced the vessels to lie idle for 15 months.

Strict conditions

The High Court later ruled that the Government had acted illegally.

The fishing row flared up in 1988 when Spanish companies set up front companies in the UK to qualify for a share of its EU fishing quotas.

The Government then introduced the Merchant Shipping Act, which set out strict nationality and residence conditions.

As a result Spanish vessels, many of them based at Milford Haven, were forced to stay tied up in port.

In October 1989, the European Court of Justice ruled that Britain must suspend part of the Act and British fishermen were warned strict restrictions on their catches would have to be imposed if the Spanish returned.

Clashes at sea

In July 1990 the House of Lords cleared the way for the return of the Spanish by granting a restraining order against the then Transport Secretary Cecil Parkinson.

Since then feelings between the two groups of fishermen have often run high, with reports of clashes at sea.

In April 1998 the Spanish fishermen received the backing of the Court of Appeal in their claim for compensation.

Twelve Spanish fishing companies based in Milford Haven were also fined over £1m in April for exceeding their fishing quotas.

The companies pleaded guilty to almost 100 offences of over-fishing and catching protected species, at Haverfordwest Crown Court.

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