Iraq troop abuse probe 'a shambles'
An official team investigating claims that British troops abused Iraqis has been condemned as a "complete and utter shambles" after managing to interview only one alleged victim.
Ministers set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) last year to examine the large number of serious complaints emerging from Iraq amid calls for a public inquiry.
IHAT's investigators, made up of more than 80 Royal Military Police and former civilian detectives led by retired Staffordshire Police CID head Geoff White, began taking statements from the first of some 150 alleged victims in Turkey in March.
But the process was halted when an elderly Iraqi sheikh who claims he was humiliated by British soldiers in front of his family walked out of his interview and flew home in protest at the line of questioning. Only one of the interviews had been completed by this point, and the other complainants are now refusing to co-operate with investigators.
Phil Shiner, lawyer for the alleged victims, said the sheikh was treated in an "appalling way" and described IHAT - which has cost £1.4 million so far - as a "complete and utter shambles".
He said a leading QC advised him he could not continue to allow his clients to be interviewed by the investigators unless he obtained guarantees that the UK Ministry of Justice's "Achieving Best Evidence" guidelines on dealing with vulnerable victims would be followed.
The 72-year-old sheikh claims that British soldiers dragged him downstairs so that his robes rode up, exposing his genitals in front of 32 members of his family. Mr Shiner said the Iraqi elder halted the interview when IHAT investigators interrupted his account of what happened to suggest he did not comply with the troops and that they used "proportionate force" on him.
The solicitor, from Birmingham-based human rights firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), said: "We want undertakings in specific terms that Achieving Best Evidence will be followed, and that if one of my lawyers says 'Look, this isn't working', or the client complains, we have a way of resolving that."
Mr White said in a statement: "I simply do not accept that the difficulties we now face stem from failings on the part of IHAT. We have taken advice from experienced Queen's Counsel and his conclusion is that there was no reasonable basis for PIL's decision to advise complainants to withdraw from the interviews.
"More importantly, I am determined to progress our investigations by all means possible and, as part of that, to continue discussions with PIL with a view to achieving a basis for resuming the interviews."