§ 15. Mr. Blackburn
asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs what further action has been taken over the killing of Lieut. J. E. Burke and the detention of Mrs. Burke and Mr. Marler; and what the result of such action has been.
This incident took place on Yugoslav territory. The frontier-line at the Loibl Pass is clearly marked, but on seeing that no Yugoslav sentries were at the barrier the British party elected to pass the frontier in order to get a better view of the scenery. Yugoslav sentries later appeared, arrested the party and took them to headquarters.
On the way a struggle took place in which Lieutenant Burke was killed. The Yugoslav sentries, though they were not present at the subsequent court of inquiry, are said to have deposed that Lieutenant Burke, who, like his companions, was unarmed, assaulted one of them and that another sentry opened fire and killed Lieutenant Burke. Second-Lieutenant Marler and Mrs. Burke, whilst in Yugoslav hands, signed a statement to the effect that Lieutenant Burke's death was due to his own fault. Since his release Second-Lieutenant Marler has admitted that he was in front of Lieutenant Burke when the struggle started and was unable to see exactly how it began, but he adheres to his view that Lieutenant Burke initiated the struggle in order to escape, and that he was, therefore, responsible for his own death. The Yugoslav Government at once expressed to His Majesty's Ambassador in Belgrade their regret at the incident and proposed the holding of a joint inquiry. His Majesty's Ambassador at Belgrade accepted this offer, but took grave exception to the fact that the Yugoslav sentry had used his firearm against an unarmed man. The holding of the joint inquiry was, in fact, delayed, apparently through difficulties of communication between Belgrade and the frontier, and also through the refusal of the Yugoslav authorities to release the survivors. His Majesty's Ambassador in Belgrade, however, continued to press for and finally secured the release of the survivors, and the return of Lieutenant Burke's body.
I may add that the survivors were not subjected to any ill-treatment during the 1716 period of their detention, and that Lieutenant Burke's body was returned by the Yugoslav authorities with every mark of respect. The joint inquiry was held on 2nd May and its findings were published on the same day.
§ Mr. Blackburn
While thanking the Minister for his statement, may I ask him whether he is aware that it differs considerably from the statement made by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs on the last occasion? Secondly, may I ask him whether Mrs. Burke has expressed any opinion as to the circumstances in which her husband was killed? Thirdly, may I ask him whether he will repeat, on behalf of His Majesty's Government, the view that it is quite unjustifiable to shoot an unarmed man?
As to the first point, I cannot agree that it differs substantially from the statement which was made by my hon. Friend, who made it plain that he had not completed his investigations at that time. Secondly, if there is an appropriate opportunity we will repeat our distress that this action was taken against an unarmed man. Thirdly, as to Mrs. Burke's evidence, it is, of course, proposed to hold a British court of inquiry as soon as the two witnesses have sufficiently recovered as to be able to give evidence.
§ Mr. Blackburn
May I, with respect, put it to the Minister that if he looks at the statement made by the Under-Secretary he will find that the Yugoslav Government were completely exonerated by the Under-Secretary?
It would be an obvious impertinence for me to have come here to attempt to reply to this Question without having read the carefully prepared and carefully made statement of my hon. Friend.
§ Squadron-Leader Fleming
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether the findings of the joint inquiry held on 2nd May actually blamed or exonerated Lieutenant Burke?
The findings of the joint inquiry did make the point that Lieutenant Burke had struggled.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn
Has any arrangement been made for compensation to the widow, and if so who will bear the cost?