Cruel Britannia

A Secret History of Torture

Ian Cobain

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


The official line is clear: the UK does not 'participate in, solicit, encourage or condone' torture. And yet, the evidence is irrefutable: when faced with potential threats to our national security, the gloves always come off. 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 equivocations, to get to the truth. 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, bending the law where they can, and issuing categorical denials all the while. What emerges is a picture of Britain that challenges our complacency 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. More about the author


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



‘[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 book to send a shudder through even those disposed to believe the worst of Britain... Startling’ Eamonn McCann

‘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 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 startling, in-depth account of Britain's role in torture’

‘A vital contribution to our evaluation of how Bush and Blair - and their heirs - 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 Osborne

‘Cobain details not just British complicity in torture... but the longstanding practice of the thing itself, and the lies British politicians have always told, and are still telling, to cover it up... Shocking and persuasive’ David Hare

‘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

‘Frank and compelling’

‘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

‘It's a political given that those governments who complain most about the use of torture have generally had a pretty ropey record of their own. The legacy of colonialism forms the backbone of this exposé, drawing in Kenya, Northern Ireland and the Middle East’ Michael Conaghan, '7 Books You Should Own'

‘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’

‘This fascinating, horrible story of seventy years of British cruelty should be read by politicians and the public alike... Superb’ Clive Stafford Smith, Director, Reprieve

‘Utterly gripping. Cobain's writing has poise and measure, allowing space for these horrific truths to seep in, under the skin. I will not forget what I have learnt from this book, and I will be telling others about it for years to come’ P J Harvey

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