Sierra Leone abuse claimants lose UK court case
Sierra Leoneans seeking damages from a mining company they accused of complicity in a police crackdown voiced disappointment on Friday after losing a landmark legal case in a British court.
“Our clients are obviously very disappointed by the judgment,” law firm Leigh Day said in a statement.
“The legal team is now reviewing the judge’s findings and will be advising the clients in early January as to the prospects of appealing the judge’s findings,” it said.
The case, brought by 142 claimants seeking damages from Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, alleged company complicity in crimes in the West African country including the killing of a protester, rape, assault and false imprisonment.
British courts agreed to hear the lawsuit because the iron ore producer was previously a subsidiary of African Minerals Ltd (AML), which was headquartered in London before it went into administration in 2015.
The case was particularly unusual as the judge, Mark Turner, conducted some court sessions in Sierra Leone itself to hear evidence of the alleged abuses.
But the ruling, published earlier this week, found that “the claimants have not succeeded in establishing liability in respect of any of the basis upon which they have sought to bring their claims”.
“The defendant is not liable for the acts of the police on any of the pleaded bases,” the judgment said.
Lawyers for the claimants had alleged that the company effectively oversaw policing of its mine and surrounding areas where protests turned deadly in two incidents in 2010 and 2012.
During the violence, sparked by unrest over working conditions and pay, as well as land seizures and forced relocations, officers fatally shot a 24-year-old woman, whose uncle is now among the claimants.
Another protesting woman claims she was beaten, raped and suffered a miscarriage after being flogged and taken to the mine camp by police.
Tonkolili Iron Ore Ltd, which is now a subsidiary of China-based Shandong Iron and Steel Group Co. Ltd, denied liability for the incidents.
A former British colony, Sierra Leone was devastated by a 1991-2002 civil war which left around 120,000 dead.
Its economy was then battered by an outbreak of Ebola in 2014-2016, which was followed by a slump in world demand for iron ore, its most important export.
In Sierra Leone, victims said they were shocked at the court judgement.
“We were beaten, robbed and locked up in police cells for days,” Kadie Kobo told AFP by phone.
“I was expecting compensation from the company for the abuses we suffered.”
“I was shot in the head during the protests and my goods were stolen,” said fellow plaintiff, Kellie Turay, a trader at Bumbuna Town.
“My God will be the best judge for what they did to us.”
“We expect much from a UK court, to be the upholder of human rights and democracy where everybody can run to seek redress,” said human rights lawyer Saffa Abdulai.