'18 years of hell': British troops suing Ministry of Defence over false claims of killing and torture in Iraq

Legal action launched by soldiers whose mental health has suffered under the strain of investigations

British Forces in 2003 near Basra, Iraq where more than 3,500 were falsely accused of war crimes, with a handful now suing the Ministry of Defence. Getty Images.  
British Forces in 2003 near Basra, Iraq where more than 3,500 were falsely accused of war crimes, with a handful now suing the Ministry of Defence. Getty Images.  

The Ministry of Defence faces a £20 million ($28.2m) legal action from British soldiers falsely accused of killing and torturing Iraqi civilians, their lawyer said on Monday.

The men have been subjected to “18 years of hell” under the threat of investigation and potential imprisonment after a raft of false claims based largely on evidence from a disgraced British lawyer.

In one case, troops were accused of drowning Iraqi teenager Saeed Shabram in Basra in 2003 when it was later discovered that he had either jumped or fallen into the water.

The result of living under years of potential legal action pressure has made the former soldiers “extremely fragile” and in very poor mental health, their lawyer told The National.

“Some of them have just gone off grid because they've had this hanging over them for so many years,” solicitor Hilary Meredith said. “These were once fighting-fit soldiers – now it is just shocking to see how extremely fragile they are. If you have not done anything wrong and served your country and been accused of something terrible, that is shockingly wrong and the mental effect is terrible.”

One officer exonerated by the Iraq Fatality Investigations judicial probe said he “wanted to die” after he was among those accused of drowning the teenager the Shatt al Arab waterway.

“I faced unending false allegations and investigations which completely broke me,” Maj Robert Campbell said. “On behalf of my soldiers, and the thousands of others who were falsely accused, I am now bringing legal action after enduring 18 years of hell.”

The officer’s case was investigated seven times and on each occasion he was cleared of any blame but the inquiries continued for years.

The cases against 3,500 soldiers were finally closed after the Iraq Fatality Investigations team went through each one and found no grounds for prosecution.

Much of the evidence against the British soldiers was gathered by the disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner, who was struck off the roll of solicitors after being found guilty in 2017 of professional misconduct, including dishonesty and lack of integrity.

The group's legal action is against the MoD and the professional indemnity insurers of Mr Shiner.

The men are attempting to raise financing through the Crowdfunding website as each soldier’s case seeking loss of earnings and pension entitlement costs £10,000 to bring to court. They allege that the MoD breached its duty of care.

After serving five tours in Afghanistan, Maj Campbell left the Army in 2018 with a medical discharge when he was diagnosed with PTSD, anxiety and depression. He is currently unable to work.

Ms Meredith, who is sending letters of claim to commence legal action, said the Iraq investigations were “one of the most shameful episodes in modern legal history” with thousands of British soldiers falsely accused of war crimes.

“This was a witch hunt based on deceit,” she said. “They allowed lawyers to pursue innocent troops with false evidence of vile war crimes.”

The 18 years of investigations since the Iraq invasion of 2003 shattered people’s lives leading to “broken marriages, ruined finances, stalled careers, poor mental and physical health”.

An MoD spokesman said while it was “inappropriate to comment on ongoing cases,” the department accepted personnel had been subjected to “unfounded allegations after serving honourably”.

The new Overseas Operations Act would give soldiers and veterans “the protections they deserve”, he said.

Published: May 17, 2021 04:37 PM

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