Plea to PM over aid worker's death

THE Suffolk coroner is writing to Prime Minister Tony Blair after an inquest concluded an aid worker was unlawfully killed in the West Bank.Dr Peter Dean, Greater Suffolk coroner, took the “unusual” move after the inquest heard that Iain Hook, 54, of Felixstowe, was one of 13 United Nations (UN) workers to be killed by Israelis in similar circumstances.

THE Suffolk coroner is writing to Prime Minister Tony Blair after an inquest concluded an aid worker was unlawfully killed in the West Bank.

Dr Peter Dean, Greater Suffolk coroner, took the “unusual” move after the inquest heard that Iain Hook, 54, of Felixstowe, was one of 13 United Nations (UN) workers to be killed by Israelis in similar circumstances.

Dr Dean will be writing to the Israeli ambassador, the prime minister and the foreign secretary Jack Straw, including a transcript of the case, in a bid to prevent further deaths occurring.

And after the verdict was delivered yesterday, Mr Hook's family, including his widow Cathy, called on the UK, Israeli and UN authorities to apply pressure so those responsible can be brought to


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account under international law.

Mr Hook was shot dead in November 2002 by an Israeli sniper overlooking a refugee camp where the aid worker was organising the evacuation of his staff.

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After the five-day inquest at Ipswich Crown Court, Dr Dean explained why he had decided to alert UK and Israeli governments to the case.

He said: “During the inquest we heard evidence given from the ex-Commissioner General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA], who was a very senior person in the United Nations, that Iain Hook was not the first of their workers to die.

“He suggested that he was the 13th to be killed by the Israelis.”

Dr Dean added: “If it appears to the coroner that there may be circumstances that could prevent a similar death occurring, we have to write to any authorities that maybe able to cause change to happen.”

He said the information relating to the 13 deaths of UNRWA workers was “very worrying” and described other evidence in the inquest as “very disturbing”.

Dr Dean said the enduring image of Mr Hook was that he was a “tremendous man” who had worked to bring humanitarian aid to the most dangerous areas of the world, including Kosova, East Timor and Afghanistan. His desire to do good made his death in the circumstances “all the more sadder”, the coroner said.

In a statement read out after the jury's verdict was delivered, Mr Hook's family, including widow Cathy, said they were now looking to the UK, Israeli government and the UN to express their concern.

They also called on the authorities to: “Apply appropriate and proportionate pressure to make those responsible fully accountable for their actions in accordance with international law and to take steps to ensure the security of existing and future humanitarian operations in Israel and worldwide.”

Mr Hook died as he tried to negotiate the rescue of his colleagues inside the West Bank refugee camp in Jenin, where he had been working for six weeks. He was the head of a UNRWA project to rebuild the refugee camp, which was home to 13,000 Palestinian refugees.

The UN office was hit by a hail of bullets in a gun battle between Israeli defence forces and Palestinian gunmen. Mr Hook was shot in the back and died in an ambulance on the way to hospital.

It was later reported that an Israeli soldier had admitted shooting Mr Hook after mistaking the aid worker's mobile telephone for a hand grenade.

Earlier the inquest heard from Dr Peter Hansen, who was commissioner-general of UNRWA at the time, that there should have been no doubt in the minds of Israeli soldiers that Mr Hook was not a Palestinian. He also said it was “fairly difficult to imagine” how a small mobile phone could be mistaken for a gun.

The inquest also heard from former international development secretary Clare Short. In a statement read in court, she said: “Pressure was put on the Israeli authorities to undertake a proper inquiry, apologise and pay compensation. This message was conveyed at ambassadorial and ministerial level.”

Last night the Israeli Embassy in London was unavailable to comment.

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