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Ex-officer probed by Iraq war veterans inquiry says closure 'long overdue'

An Iraq War veteran investigated by the discredited probe into murder and torture allegations against British troops has said its closure is "long overdue".

The £60 million Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) inquiry will be closed in months after its caseload is whittled down and around 20 investigations are handed over to military police.

Former colour sergeant Brian Wood, who served in the 1st Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment at the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004, said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Government had "big lessons to learn".

He told BBC Breakfast: "The allegations were of the highest order - unlawful killing, mutilation and mistreatment of prisoners of war.

"That just did not happen and I just don't know where they got the fuel from.

"It's good news (Ihat's closure), long overdue but it's good news. We had holes in our system which were exploited."

Mr Wood also suggested the allegations made to the Al-Sweady Inquiry should not have been made public until the claims were thoroughly investigated.

He said: "Because of the seriousness of the allegations, they should have looked into them in so much detail before releasing it as a public inquiry.

"What they have put us through for that period was damaging to the degree of careers, marital split-ups and fuelling the fire of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the trauma we had seen on the battlefield."

And former Army captain Rachel Webster, who is taking legal action over her 2014 arrest and questioning by Ihat, told ITV News: "I hadn't done anything.

"I was humiliated and I will never ever forget it and neither will any other soldier or veteran that has had this done to (them) as well. It has ruined lives. It has destroyed me, literally destroyed me."

The Government has defended its handling of the investigation, with v eterans minister Mark Lancaster saying the probe was abused by lawyers but the MoD acted correctly.

He told BBC Radio Four's Today programme: "It was set up for entirely the right reasons.

"Without having Ihat, potentially our troops could have been subjected to inquiries by the International Criminal Court."

He was asked about a damning Commons Defence Committee report that said the MoD had been complicit in the creation of the legal industry that sprang up around Ihat.

Mr Lancaster said: "It is a serious allegation. I'm not sure that there is any evidence that the MoD have been complicit in that."

Mr Lancaster, who would not be drawn on possible compensation for veterans impacted by Ihat, said that a small number of serious cases involving personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq would still be investigated by military authorities.

Asked if comments made by Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who led the defence committee probe, that there is a "rotten core" of civil servants at the MoD rang true, former head of the army, General Sir Mike Jackson, told LBC: "They're harsh words but I have no reason to doubt the committee's findings.

"I had my own difficulties with the civil service when I was head of the army.

"I fear the reputation of the British Army has been damaged from these unfounded and trumped-up allegations."

But defence minister Lord Howe rejected any attacks on civil servants.

Lord Howe told LBC that he "completely repudiated" the suggestion "that we have dishonest civil servants in the Ministry of Defence. There is absolutely no basis for that criticism of our civil servants who have been doing their loyal duties for many months."

The scathing report by the Defence Committee said the probe had subjected serving and retired troops to "deeply disturbing" treatment and had "directly harmed" UK defences.

MPs set out a litany of failures about the way the MoD had handled the probe.

They criticised it for "serious" failings after it handed over more than £110,829 to Abu Jamal, an Iraqi middleman, while he was employed by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), the defunct firm behind many of the claims.

Phil Shiner, who ran PIL, has been struck off after being found to have acted dishonestly in bringing murder and torture claims against Iraq war veterans.

The committee said it was "deeply concerned" the MoD had used public funds to cover the costs of those who were bringing "spurious and unassessed" cases against the war veterans and about the lack of support for those accused.

Ihat investigators used "intimidatory tactics", including "deeply disturbing" methods such as impersonating the police. Serving and retired soldiers have also been spied on, the report found.

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