Britain’s embattled ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, has been cleared of all disciplinary allegations and is flying back to his post in Tashkent at the weekend. Sources there said he is contemplating legal action against the Foreign Office for trying to force him to resign.
Mr Murray was at the centre of an unprecedented row last autumn after falling foul of Washington’s policy of supporting the former Soviet police state in Uzbekistan. The US, which has a base in the central Asian state, has been backing the regime of President Islam Karimov, despite its record of torture, imprisoning opponents and, on one occasion, allegedly boiling prisoners to death.
After Mr Murray clashed with the then US ambassador, it is alleged that pressure was exerted from Downing Street to restrain his outspoken comments. He was subsequently recalled, presented with a string of alleged disciplinary offences and invited to resign.
All the charges against him, which ranged from backing an overstayer’s visa application to womanising, drinking and driving an embassy Land Rover down some lakeside steps, have collapsed. He has, however, according to Whitehall sources, been reprimanded for “talking about the charges to embassy colleagues”.
A source told the Guardian that as a senior ambassador he had read many of Mr Murray’s dispatches from Uzbekistan. “They were honest, well-written and accurate.”
The Foreign Office minister, Bill Rammell, signalled the department’s retreat from the attempt to sack Mr Murray shortly before Christmas, when he told the Commons: “We endorse his comments about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan.
“Our concern about Islamic extremism… does not mean that we turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, or regard perceived threats to security as justification for imprisoning young men simply on religious grounds.”
These were key points in Mr Murray’s dispatches home, and in his quarrels with the then US ambassador.
It is understood that his lawyers want an investigation into the way the complaints against him were handled.
He has not been the only career diplomat to complain of politicisation and victimisation at the Foreign Office. Clive Howard, an employment lawyer at the solicitors Russell Jones and Walker, yesterday accused it of running an “incompetent” personnel department staffed by some diplomats with little experience.
He has now represented four other diplomats who claim that they were mistreated.
Two cases have been secretly settled.
A third diplomat was recalled to Britain after alleging fraud at an embassy, but was then investigated for separate offences. He was initially told he had been found guilty of misconduct in an internal report, but this proved to be untrue when he later saw the document.
In the fourth case, a diplomat complained fruitlessly about the behaviour of a member of the personnel department. Three years on, his lawyers are still demanding an internal investigation.
The senior officials’ trade union, the First Division Association, appointed a senior woman academic last November to investigate another allegation of victimisation in the Foreign Office.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We reject any allegations that we victimise staff or treat them unsympathetically. We are a huge organisation. We try to deal with staff in a fair and civil manner. We get it right most of the time; sometimes we don’t.”