Family of British geologist Jim Fitton celebrate as release is announced in Iraq

Iraqi appeal court overturns conviction on charges of stealing antiquities

German citizen Volker Waldmann, right, who was also accused of stealing antiquities, before being acquitted at a trial in Baghdad, with Jim Fetton, whose conviction has been overturned. AP
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Relatives of retired British geologist Jim Fitton have spoken of their joy after his Iraqi jail sentence was overturned.

Mr Fitton, 66, was stopped at Baghdad International Airport in early June where officials accused him of stealing antiquities, and was subsequently sentenced to 15 years in prison.

His family said they were "over the moon" after being told he has now been cleared.

German citizen Volker Waldmann, who was also on the tour, was also accused of stealing antiquities, but was acquitted at a trial in Baghdad on June 6.

They were on a tour organised by a small British company that specialises in visiting archaeological sites.

Father-of-two Mr Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah.

Sam Tasker, 27, who is married to Mr Fitton's daughter Leila, said the family "expect him to be home by the end of the week" although the timeline remains unclear.

"For the first time since March 20th, Leila, Josh, Sarijah and I are smiling without irony,” said Mr Tasker, 27, from Bath, Somerset.

"We were informed this morning that the appeals court has decided to quash the verdict of the felony court, to fully recognise Jim's innocence in this case, and to process his immediate release from a 15-year prison sentence in Baghdad.

A police car transports Jim Fitton to the Karkh Appeal Court in Baghdad, on June 6. AFP

"We understand that this process is under way ― he is still in prison this evening but will soon be released.

Mr Tasker said the family would not be doing any press interviews or elaborating at all about the situation "until he is home, as we don't want to inflame the wrong groups or put him at any risk".

"Once he is home, we will celebrate and take some time to recover as a family, and will be happy to tell the story to anyone who will listen," he said.

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, welcomed the "fantastic development" and said: "It is impossible to imagine the stress that Jim and his family have endured over the past few months.

"Jim and his family have shown incredible strength and should be extremely proud of the role they have played in pressuring the government to act. This has been an incredibly anxious time and the government should consider how to improve the way they respond to these cases in the first instance.

"This is a testament to the hard work of the consulate team, Foreign Office officials and, of course, Jim's family."

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said: "We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, and continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities."

Mr Fitton was arrested at Baghdad Airport on March 20 alongside German tourist Volker Waldmann after airport security discovered the items in their luggage.

The pair told judges they had not acted with criminal intent, with Mr Fitton explaining he collected such fragments as a hobby.

Iraqi law said the death penalty was a possible punishment but Mr Fitton was later sentenced to 15 years in jail while Mr Waldmann was cleared.

Mr Fitton was initially held in an airport detention centre after his arrest and has been in an Iraqi prison since the second week of June.

Updated: July 27, 2022, 8:01 AM