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Torture claim lawyers 'caused soldiers and their families to endure torment'

Lawyers who allegedly ignored evidence that cast doubt on their clients' claims of torture against British troops caused soldiers and their families to "endure torment", a tribunal has heard.

Law firm Leigh Day and solicitors Martyn Day and Sapna Malik continued to bring cases against Iraq War veterans despite having documents suggesting that those they were representing were members of a "murderous" Iraqi Shia militia group and not innocent civilians, it is alleged.

A Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal held in London on Monday heard how the accusations of murder and torture made against British troops who had fought in the 2004 Battle of Danny Boy were "false" and should not have been "advanced in the public domain".

Mr Day, Ms Malik and the law firm face 19 misconduct charges, while fellow solicitor Anna Crowther faces one allegation. All deny any wrongdoing.

Representing the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Timothy Dutton QC said in his opening summary that the conduct of Mr Day and Ms Malik impacted British soldiers who had been "subjected to a murderous ambush" and "fought bravely against their attackers".

Mr Dutton drew attention to the OMS (Shia militia group Office of the Martyr Al Sadr) detainee list, which he said had been in the firm's possession from 2004 onwards, and which "undermined their clients' claims they were innocent bystanders in the Battle of Danny Boy".

He said: "If the respondents had discharged their duties, British soldiers and their families would not have had to endure torment and years of worry arising from false allegations endorsed by solicitors and members of the profession, made not just in claims but to the world's media.

"Over a period of more than seven years, Martyn Day, Sapna Malik and Leigh Day made and maintained allegations that soldiers in the British Army had murdered, tortured and mutilated Iraqi civilians."

Among the charges is an allegation of prohibited payments made to a person called Mazin Younis, and of improper conduct at a 2008 press conference involving disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner, where it was claimed that British soldiers had carried out the abuse.

Mr Shiner was struck off in February for dishonestly pursuing torture and murder claims against British troops.

A total of 22 charges against him, including 12 that he had denied or partially admitted and five of dishonesty, were found proved by the SDT.

Mr Dutton said the firm, Mr Day and Ms Malik continued to act for their clients when they had evidence, in the form of a document, that the clients were members of a militia associated with the Mahdi Army.

He said the document known as the "OMS detainee list", which stands for Office of the Martyr Al Sadr a Shia militia group, associated with the Mahdi Army fighting during the Iraq war, had been in their possession since 2004.

The tribunal heard it was "almost nine years" since the solicitors had first come into contact with the list before the document was passed on to anyone else in 2013.

In an internal email, Mr Day said he had not seen the document before, and that within "one second" of reading it, its "massive significance" would have been clear, and had he read it he would have "packed away the file immediately".

Mr Dutton said if the list had been made available to others, it was unlikely that Mr Shiner's firm, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), would have felt able to pursue the claim for legal aid, that legal aid would have been granted, and the long-running Al-Sweady public inquiry would have been ordered.

The £31 million Al-Sweady inquiry was set up to investigate accusations that Iraqi detainees had been murdered and mutilated following the 2004 battle, and its findings suggested some of the claimants, described as members of the Mahdi Army insurgent group, lied to discredit British armed forces.

Mr Dutton told the tribunal the firm and solicitors had evidence that client Khuder Al Sweady was not only a senior member of the Mahdi Army, but had been intimidating and blackmailing detainees, and had threatened to physically harm one of their "trusted intermediaries".

He said this was never properly investigated, with Mr Al Sweady never asked about his membership of the Mahdi Army or his threatening conduct.

Mr Dutton said the respondents "did not review the materials with sufficient care", and did not "manage their documents" to ensure Mr Shiner received the same - with the OMS list not given to PIL until 2013.

He also highlighted an internal email referencing the paying of "bribes" - described in two emails by Ms Malik and Ms Crowther - something he said they deny and claim was an "unfortunate misdescription".

The tribunal also heard how the firm received more than £9.5 million in fees for bringing the Iraqi claims, and paid more than a million dollars in expenses or cash payments to intermediaries to generate and support the claims.

The hearing continues and is expected to last seven weeks.

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