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Iraq probe MP: MoD texts told me to be less critical of Government

A Tory MP in charge of a probe into how Iraq war veterans have been treated says he has received texts from Ministry of Defence officials telling him to be less critical of the Government.

Some of the texts were sent to Johnny Mercer in the middle of the night, The Sunday Telegraph said.

Mr Mercer, a former army captain, told the newspaper: "The texts have been critical of my approach. They have been from civilians in the Ministry of Defence saying what I am doing is not helpful to the Government."

Defending the timing of some of the texts, a source said the MoD closely monitored newspaper reports and was quick to contact individuals making remarks of interest.

The source added: "When a paper drops late with reports concerning the MoD then we are used to responding at the time."

The MP will release a report in the New Year into the operations of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) which investigates complaints against UK troops.

An MoD spokesman said: "The Government is determined to stop spurious legal claims against our troops and looks forward to considering recommendations from Johnny Mercer's committee."

Mr Mercer clashed with Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon when he gave evidence to the Commons Defence Committee on Ihat and the report is expected to be critical of the set-up.

The two Tories were at odds last week when Sir Michael faced claims ministers were more concerned about avoiding the UK being dragged to the International Criminal Court than protecting British troops from the "out of control" inquiry into alleged abuse in Iraq.

Sir Michael acknowledged the Ihat process was "very frustrating" and had been abused on an "industrial scale", but stressed that claims of criminal behaviour had to be properly investigated.

Mr Mercer, who chairs the Defence Select Committee's probe into Ihat, responded by saying there were "fundamental flaws" in the process and service personnel who had suffered "horrific" experiences should be the priority.

The Ihat inquiry has been dogged by controversy, including over the involvement of now defunct law firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL).

It emerged the MoD paid the law firm more than £200,000 this year while it was being investigated over a string of misconduct allegations.

Ihat continued to pay PIL while an investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) - which followed a complaint from the Government - was under way.

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