Friday, September 02, 2011
Prins Gunasekera telephoned me this evening to remind me that it was the 22th anniversary of his arrivel at Heathrow as a refugee from Sri Lanka! I met him at Heathrow and after half an hour's delay he was admitted, our High Commission in Colombo and I having smoothed the path for him to escape probable assassination after three of his colleagues in chambers had been murdered.
In 1971 I had met Prins in my office at 6 Harley Street when he visited the UK to enlist the aid of Amnesty International to investigate the circumstances in which nearly 15,000 alleged supporters of the rebel JVP were detained without trial. Later that year I went to Sri Lanka to conduct the investigation for Amnesty International, where I travelled extensively down the coast and round the southern tip of the island as far as Kataragama, covering the areas in which the troubles had been most severe. Prins was my mentor and guide during that trip, together with Bala Tampoe, General Secretary of the Ceylon Mercantile Union. In Colombo, having been refused official permission to go into any of the prisons, we tried to enter the Welikade jail as visitors to a detainee, with Prins's three-year old daughter Lanka, who is now a doctor at Guy's Hospital!. We were unmasked after getting past the entrance and turned away. Subsequently Mrs Bandaranaike, then President, sent officials to me at my hotel to serve a notice requiring me to leave the country. They arrived in the lobby just as I was about to leave for the airport on the way home, so I thanked them politely but non-committally, and when one of them then asked me when I was going to leave, I looked at the notice again and said "This notice doesn't tell me I have to give you that information. If you want to know the answer, you'll have to serve me with a notice to that effect". They left the hotel, and after a few minutes I also departed.
Since he arrived here all those years ago, Prins has never been back to Sri Lanka, though he could do so without danger as a British citizen. His experiences during the months immediately before he left as a refugee left too many scars, and he is content to stay here, still practising the law at the age of 85, and cultivating his garden.