Gurkha row: Brown, UK Defence Minister apologise to Lumley

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London, Mar.30 (ANI): British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has apologised "unreservedly" to actress Joanna Lumley after the country's Veterans Minister claimed she had spearheaded a campaign for Gurkhas' rights, but had stayed silent as veterans suffered.

Brown moved to defuse a row over an accusation by Kevan Jones, the Defence and Veterans Minister, that Miss Lumley had maintained a "deathly silence" over problems faced by some Gurkhas setting in Britain following her campaign that won them the right to do so.

Yesterday, at an impassioned Westminster press conference, Lumley said his claims were "smears which must have put doubts in the hearts of" supporters of the campaign.

She said that she and fellow campaigners had only remained silent at the behest of Gordon Brown who asked them to help iron out "bumps in the road" away from the public eye.

"I want to say to the people of this country, what you did was to back a just cause and we have not stopped working solidly for the Gurkhas in the quiet, as we promised the Prime Minister we would," she said.

"It has been suggested that I somehow was parachuted in, took the headlines and ran. I feel that is a smear. The idea that we have somehow lured Gurkhas over her with promises of paradise is absolutely and completely untrue.

"The people who made those accusations must know them to be untrue."

Lumley helped force the Government into abandoning rules that prevented Gurkhas who retired before 1997 settling freely in Britain. All those with more than four years service now have the right to apply for settlement in Britain along with their families.

But giving evidence to the home affairs committee earlier this month, Mr Jones said that since the change, some veterans had been misled about what they could expect on arrival.

Some had been encouraged to make donations to veterans' organisations in Nepal, which then refer them to solicitors in Britain, he said. Others mistakenly believed that they would be entitled to free housing.

Mr Jones said that, having raised the issue and forced the change, Miss Lumley had a responsibility to help explain the new rules to the Gurkhas. She had not done so, he said, adding: "Her deathly silence, frankly, irritates me."

He also accused "rogue solicitors" of cashing in on the former fighters' plight and launched an inquiry into the activities of lawyers Howe and Co, who provide legal help to Gurkhas and campaigned alongside Miss Lumley.

Yesterday, the inquiry fully exonerated the firm of wrongdoing. Its senior partner Martin Howe said Mr Jones' comments had been "extremely defamatory" and accused him of deliberately lying to the committee.

Mr Jones apologised "unreservedly for any offence caused" to Miss Lumley but not to Howe and Co. He stressed his only concern had been to stop middlemen "ripping off vulnerable ex-Gurkhas" trying to move to Britain.

Lumley said she also received an "unreserved apology" by phone from the Prime Minister shortly after the press conference.

"He wanted to say that he thought the world of what we were doing and that he welcomes all Gurkhas to this country," she told reporters. Downing Street spokesman confirmed the call, saying:

"The Prime Minister has spoken to Joanna Lumley and reiterated his commitment to the policy that was brought in last year," The Telegraph quoted him, as saying. (ANI)

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