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Red Cap deaths trial set to begin

The trial of two Iraqis accused of killing six British military policemen in 2003 finally starts on Wednesday - but families of the victims said their anguish would go on.

It is more than seven years since the Red Caps were murdered when a mob of about 400 people attacked a police station in Majar al-Kabir, southern Iraq.

Iraqi officials issued arrest warrants in 2006 but there was little progress in the case until eight people were taken into custody in February this year. Six later walked free, leaving two, Hamza Hateer and Mussa Ismael al Fartusi, to stand trial at the central criminal court in Baghdad this week.

John Hyde, whose son Lance Corporal Benjamin Hyde, 23, was one of the victims, voiced frustration that the defendants face a prison sentence of only up to 10 years if found guilty. He said UK Government rules meant the British authorities could not assist the Iraqi investigation until they were assured that those on trial would not receive the death penalty.

Mr Hyde, of Northallerton, North Yorkshire, said: "I don't think any of us feel that that's justice. But I find it difficult to get emotional about it because it's just part of an ongoing thing."

The families have also expressed concerns about how they will be kept informed about what happens at the trial. They were originally told they could travel to Iraq for the hearings but it was later decided this was too dangerous.

British officials then said efforts would be made to set up a videolink beaming live images from the court back to the UK but this proved impossible. Instead the relatives will receive e-mail updates via the British Embassy in Baghdad and the Ministry of Defence about how the trial progresses.

He added: "Nothing that happens is ever going to make me and my wife feel any different to what we feel today and will feel next week. Nothing is going to make any difference to that. This trial is just another part in an ongoing process."

The Red Caps had been training local Iraqi officers when the police station came under attack on June 24 2003. An inquest in March 2006 heard that some of their bodies were found riddled with bullets, while others had marks that suggested they had been dragged, tied up or beaten with rifles.

The other victims were Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, 41, from Chessington, Surrey; Corporal Russell Aston, 30, from Swadlincote, Derbyshire; Corporal Paul Long, 24, of South Shields, Tyne and Wear; Lance Corporal Tom Keys, 20, from Bala, North Wales; and Corporal Simon Miller, 21, from Washington, Tyne and Wear.

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