A retired British geologist is to be released from an Iraqi prison after his conviction for attempted artefact smuggling was quashed, according to his family.
Jim Fitton, 66, was jailed for 15 years after collecting 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in Iraq’s south east, as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour.
Iraqi officials claimed the items could be considered archaeological pieces as they date back more than 200 years.
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 listenSam Tasker
But Mr Fitton’s family say they are “over the moon” after being told he has now been cleared.
Son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, from Bath, Somerset, said in a statement: “For the first time since March 20th, Leila, Josh, Sarijah and I are smiling without irony.
“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.
“We understand that this process is under way – he is still in prison this evening but will soon be released.
“We will 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.”
Father-of-two Mr Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah.
Mr Tasker, who is married to Leila, said the family “expect him to be home by the end of the week” although the timeline remains unclear.
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.