Officials have decided to drop investigations into almost 60 claims of unlawful killings by soldiers who served in Iraq.
The Iraq historic allegations team (Ihat), set up by the last Labour government in 2010 to examine claims of murder, abuse and torture during the Iraq war, has decided not to proceed in 57 cases, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed. A further case was stopped by the military’s service prosecuting authority.
Earlier this month, nearly 300 Britons who served in Iraq were contacted by investigators looking into allegations of war crimes, with some being interrogated on their doorsteps, officials said.
How many Iraqis were killed or abused by British soldiers? We may never know
Last week, David Cameron ordered ministers to clamp down on lawyers pursuing claims against Iraq veterans.
The national security council was told to draw up options to end “spurious claims”, including measures to curb the use of “no win, no fee” arrangements and the requirement that legal aid claimants must have lived in the UK for 12 months.
The prime minister’s determination comes after the law firm Leigh Day was referred to the solicitors disciplinary tribunal over complaints about its handling of legal claims brought by Iraqi detainees against the MoD.
The claims, which crumbled when it emerged that some of the Iraqis were members of the rebel Mahdi army, centred on allegations that detainees had been abused and murdered by British soldiers. The chairman of the Al-Sweady inquiry, which was set up to look into the claims, called the most serious of them “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.
Conservative MP Richard Benyon, a member of the Commons defence select committee, said innocent veterans were enduring an “intolerable burden”.
He told the Sun, which reported the decision to drop the 58 investigations: “It’s an intolerable burden for people who have served their country well to face this knowing they’re innocent.”
Nobody, not even British soldiers, should be above the law
However, the army’s former chief legal adviser in Iraq has criticised the crackdown on legal claims against Iraq veterans. Lt Col Nicholas Mercer, now an Anglican priest, said the prime minister was wrong to characterise those raising concerns about military abuse as “money-grabbing lawyers”.
Mercer said the claims were not false and raised issues of “very high importance”, including the abuse of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan and the beating to death by soldiers of the Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa.
Mercer pointed out that the government has paid out £20m for 326 cases. “Anyone who has fought the MoD knows they don’t pay out for nothing. So there are 326 substantiated claims at a cost of £20m, and almost no criminal proceedings to accompany it. You have to ask why,” he told the BBC.
Ihat is looking into cases of more than 1,500 possible victims, of whom 280 were alleged to have been unlawfully killed. Ihat, which was set up in 2010, was due to be wound up this year but is likely to be funded until 2019.