24 Mar 2011

Seized Libyan denies link to Yvonne Fletcher killing

International Editor

A Libyan with alleged links to the 1984 killing of policewoman Yvonne Fletcher tells Channel 4 News he was “not at the scene” when the shooting took place but that he was in London at the time.

Pc Yvonne Fletcher was just 25 when she was shot dead during a 1984 protest against Colonel Gaddafi‘s regime. She had been helping to police the rally outside Libya‘s embassy in central London.

She was hit by a bullet thought to have been fired from a first-floor window in the building. The shooting sparked an 11-day siege before staff were allowed to leave Britain under diplomatic immunity.

I was there but I was not at the scene when the shooting took place. Omar al-Sodani

Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum has spoken to a man named Omar al-Sodani being held in detention by rebel forces in Benghazi – the rebel-held town in eastern Libya. Believed to be 59, he was paraded alongside Libyan soldiers and Africans alleged to be mercenaries.

In Benghazi the name “Omar al Sodani” is well-known, because he was a senior member of Colonel Gaddafi’s feared Revolutionary Committee.

Pc Yvonne Fletcher who was murdered in 1984.

In a chaotic media scrum, Mr al-Sodani was asked by Channel 4 News if he had been present at the 1984 shooting.

He said: “I was there but I was not at the scene when the shooting took place.

He explained that he had been detained in police custody at the time “after having a quarrel with a police officer”.

He added: “I was told while at police station that shooting took place.”

A week after the 1984 tragedy, bureau staff were escorted to the airport and UK relations with Libya cut. No-one has ever been charged over the killing in London’s St James’ Square.

‘The whole Libyan situation is so murky’

Film director Michael Winner ha long campaigned for justice on behalf of Yvonne Fletcher’s family. He established the Police Memorial Trust after Pc Fletcher’s death.

Mr Winner said he doubted there would ever be a “just ending”.

Police at the scene of Pc Yvonne Fletcher's shooting in 1984.

(Police at the scene of Yvonne Fletcher’s shooting close to the Libyan embassy in central London, April 17, 1984 – Reuters)

He said: “It is 26 years later. After 26 years they have apparently arrested somebody but the police in England knew who did the shooting in days.

“The whole Libyan situation is so murky anything can happen.

“Until a man stands in the dock, and the right man, in England, it will be highly unsatisfactory.”

International Editor Lindsey Hilsum's account of her meeting with Omal al-Sodani:

It was a chaotic situation in the prison where we saw Omar al Sodani. We saw 55 prisoners of war - some Libyan soldiers, some Africans who their captors accuse of being mercenaries. Then Sodani was brought into the courtyard. Journalists crowded round him. At first I thought he was under duress, but when he spoke he seemed keen to talk both in Arabic and English, apparently wanting to clear his name. In Benghazi he is well known as a senior member of Colonel Ghaddafi's Revolutionary Committees as well as a doctor at the Benghazi Medical Center. He said he'd been picked up from his office there three days earlier. I could see marks on his wrists, with scabs which looked older than that. I asked if he had been mistreated but he said no. His captors were all around him so I cannot say if his denial was genuine.

For more on this visit Lindsey Hilsum's blog - Omar al-Sodani: a familiar face, familiar accusations