Iraq abuse inquiries close with no prosecutions against UK troops

Ministry has paid more than £20m in compensation settlements for abuse claims from Iraqi nationals

British prime minister Tony Blair addresses troops at Shaiba Logistics Base in Basra, Iraq, in July 2016. Photo: AFP
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The investigations into allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq have closed without any prosecutions being brought, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace has told Parliament.

In a letter to the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Wallace said the Service Police Legacy Investigations assessed 1,291 allegations since July 2017 but had now “officially closed its doors”.

He said that although 178 allegations had been formally pursued through 55 investigations, no soldier had been prosecuted as a result on the inquiry's work.

The investigation reports say that five people were referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority in 2019, but no charges were brought.

“The vast majority of the more than 140,000 members of our armed forces who served in Iraq did so honourably," Mr Wallace said.

"Many sadly suffered injuries or death, with devastating consequences for them and their families.”

The inquiry replaced the Iraq Historic Allegations Team in 2017 after Phil Shiner, a solicitor who had taken many cases to it, was struck off for using financial incentives to obtain clients.

Mr Wallace said that, while some allegations against British troops “were credible”, others were not and the credibility of allegations had been a “significant challenge throughout the investigations”.

“However, not all allegations and claims were spurious, otherwise investigations would not have proceeded beyond initial examination and no claims for compensation would have been paid," he said.

“It is sadly clear, from all the investigations the UK conducted, that some shocking and shameful incidents did happen in Iraq.

"We recognise that there were four convictions of UK military personnel for offences in Iraq including offences of assault and inhuman treatment.

“The government’s position is clear – we deplore and condemn all such incidents.”

Three soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers were jailed for between 20 weeks and two years by a court martial in February 2005 for abusing Iraqi civilians at a camp near Basra two years earlier.

In 2007, a soldier from the Queen’s Lancashire Regiment was jailed for a year in connection with the death of Iraqi civilian Baha Mousa in September 2003.

The Ministry of Defence has paid more than £20 million ($27.6m) in compensation settlements for abuse claims from Iraqi nationals.

Mr Wallace said that in some cases, investigations “in arduous, battlefield conditions” by the Royal Military Police “did not manage to secure all the required evidence, with the result that opportunities to hold those responsible to account may now have been lost”.

“I apologise unreservedly to all those who suffered treatment at the hands of UK forces, which was unacceptable,” he said.

Updated: October 19, 2021, 9:46 PM