No apologies: Cameron stops short in India

By Tony Hudson

David Cameron has stopped short of a formal apology for the Amritsar massacre in 1919 during his trip to India.

The prime minister described the event as "a deeply shameful event in British history" but did not issue a formal apology on the grounds that reaching back into Britain's colonial history would be wrong.

"We are dealing with something here that happened a good 40 years before I was even born, and which Winston Churchill described as 'monstrous' at the time and the British government rightly condemned", he said.

"That is why the words I used are right: to pay respect to those who lost their lives, to remember what happened, to learn the lessons, to reflect on the fact that those who were responsible were rightly criticised at the time, to learn from the bad and to cherish the good."

Cameron became the first British prime minister to pay his respects in person at the site of the massacre which emboldened the movement for Indian independence.

There is some dispute over the actual death toll of the massacre, with colonial authorities estimating the number to be 379 whereas Indian sources put the number closer to 1,000.

His visit is his first use of the 'regret' gambit as a means of diplomacy, after a series of Commons statements apologising for events in the past won Cameron plaudits for the sensitivity of his tone.

Since becoming prime minister in 2010 he has apologised for 1972's Bloody Sunday killings in Northern Ireland, the 1989 Hillsborough disaster and, most recently, the avoidable deaths at Stafford hospital between 2005 and 2009.