Cruel Britannia

A Secret History of Torture

Ian Cobain

Published: 1 November 2012
Hardback, Royal PB
153x234mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781846273339

Other Editions


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Published: 4 July 2013
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781846273346

Trade Paperback

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Published: 1 November 2012
Trade Paperback, Royal Octavo
156x234mm, 368 pages
ISBN: 9781846274893

Ebook Available


The official line is clear: the UK does not 'participate in, solicit, encourage or condone' torture. And yet, the evidence is irrefutable: when it comes to dealing with potential threats to our national security, the gloves always come off. As the enquiries into the on-going abuse of terror suspects uncover an ever more sinister and unpalatable chain of complicity - going right to the top of government - it is time to re-examine the assumption that the British don't 'do' torture. Drawing on previously unseen official documents, and the accounts of witnesses, victims and experts, prize-winning investigative journalist Ian Cobain looks beyond the cover-ups and the attempts to dismiss brutality as the work of a few rogue interrogators, to reveal a secret and shocking record of torture. From WWII to the War on Terror, via Kenya and Northern Ireland, Cruel Britannia shows how the British have repeatedly and systematically resorted to torture, turning a blind eye where necessary, bending the law where they can, and issuing categorical denials all the while. What emerges is a picture of Britain that challenges our complacency on human rights and exposes the lie behind our reputation for fair play.

About the author

Image of Ian Cobain

IAN COBAIN was born in Liverpool in 1960. He has been a journalist since the early 1980s and is currently an investigative reporter with the Guardian. His inquiries into the UK's involvement in torture since 9/11 have won a number of major awards, including the Martha Gellhorn Prize and the Paul Foot Award for investigative journalism. He has also won several Amnesty International media awards. Cobain lives in London with his wife and two children. This is his first book. More about the author


‘[A] reminder of why the default assumption, for every journalist dealing with authority, must be, "Why is this liar lying to me?" For the reader, it is a reminder of why we need journalists. As this quietly reported history of torture shows, Cobain is a fine one’ Tim Rayment



‘[As] Cobain shows in this harrowing, shaming book, torture is neither alien nor exceptional. It is as British as suet pudding’

‘[This] book requires reconsideration of the comforting story of our success in 'turning' German agents during the war’ Roger Smith

‘[This] will come as a shock to those who are taken in by Britain's image of fair play and decency abroad... Explosive, alarming, remarkable’ Reverend Nicholas Mercer

‘A brilliant book, written coolly and dispassionately by a reporter at the top of his game... I don't think I have read a better non-fiction book this year’ John Sweeney

‘A fine study’ Must Read

‘A genuine contribution to history’ David Blair

‘A persuasive, convincing and invaluable contribution that will force questions to be asked that inevitably will bring in a higher level of scrutiny’ Humphrey Hawskley

‘A shocking exposé... Cobain has done an admirable job... [He] provides the evidence and argument that are essential for a properly enlightened debate to take place about Britain's use of torture... Excellent’ Tommy McKearney, former Brigade Commander of the IRA

‘A vital contribution to our evaluation of how Bush and Blair - and their heris - have thwarted the march towards democratic openness... His excellent book will educate us all’ Clive Stafford-Smith

‘A well-written, thought-provoking account of some of the darkest corners in recent British history’ Calder Walton

‘An excellent, unsettling, important book which goes beyond conspiracy theories to highlight truths most would rather not think about’

‘An excellent, unsettling, important book, which goes beyond conspiracy theories to highlight truths most people would rather not think about’

‘Carefully researched and well-written... [Cobain] should be congratulated for addressing a subject which much of the rest of Fleet Street has been determined to ignore’ Peter Oborne

‘Cobain deftly charts the experimentation and development of interrogation or torture techniques applied over the years... As [he] coaxes the truth out into the light, one cannot help but feel that the marks of torture inflicted on so many, are part of us all’ Maeve McClenaghan

‘Cobain reveals a shocking record of torture. It's unnerving reading’ Sir Roger Moore

‘Cobain's work does much to sustain [investigative journalism's] honour and underline its necessity. He offers a dramatic challenge to official dishonesty and public complacency, past and present’ Stephen Howe

‘His doggedness in tracking down victims around the globe, in prison or out, trawling through records and finding people who can speak about the unspeakable, is what makes this so powerful... It's only by facing up the ugly truth that we'll have any chance of ensuring our government works to uphold the best’ Heather Brooke

‘I am not prone to gasp and nor would I describe myself as naive. But the scale of torture in the British security services, as revealed by Ian Cobain in this admirably researched book, took me aback... Absorbing [and] devastating’ John Kampfer

‘Lucid and engaging... This book is a heavy weapon for campaigners to wield against the abuse of power by intelligence agencies... Gripping’ Saleh Mamon

‘Particularly fine’

‘What's been done under the aegis of the British state will shock anyone who cherishes civilised values’ Ben Felsenburg

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