Army chiefs set to prove the 'Mirror' photos a hoax

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The Independent Online

Military chiefs are preparing to expose as fakes photographs published in the Daily Mirror purporting to show the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers, defence sources say. They say the military will be ready to present its case "in the near future".

Military chiefs are preparing to expose as fakes photographs published in the Daily Mirror purporting to show the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by British soldiers, defence sources say. They say the military will be ready to present its case "in the near future".

The move signals a change of stance by the Army which had previously said that it may never be possible to establish whether the pictures, supposedly taken in southern Iraq, were genuine or staged.

Senior military officials have also attempted to downplay the controversy over the photographs, saying what mattered were the allegations of beatings and humiliation behind them rather than the debate over their authenticity.

But investigations into allegations behind the photographs have failed to progress because the Royal Military Police have not established the identities of Soldiers "A" and "B" in the Mirror story and have found no trace of an Iraqi making a complaint of the assaults portrayed.

Defence sources say they hope that once the photographs are publicly proved to be false, the Mirror will feel they are no longer under an obligation to protect the identities of the two soldiers.

The Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the Royal Military Police (RMP) is now believed to have established that the pictures were staged on the back of a Bedford Mark 4 lorry, possibly at a Territorial Army barracks near Manchester. Forensic examination of the photographs is said to show that they are incompatible with the supposed attack.

However, the RMP is said to have dismissed some of the other supposed evidence published in rival newspapers to prove the Mirror pictures were staged. In particular, the SIB is said to have found it impossible to discern from the images whether the rifles on show were A1 SA80s, which were not used in Iraq. British troops were armed with the A2 version.

Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, told the Commons on Monday that the images looked increasingly like a hoax. Yesterday, Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former director of communications, declared that Piers Morgan, the Mirror editor, should resign if the photographs proved not to be genuine.

"This idea that something illustrates a broader point and is therefore justified - when you think of the huge damage it has done around the world and particularly the Middle East - is completely unjustified," he said.

Mr Campbell told a committee of MPs holding an inquiry into government communications that he believed the Mirror story was an example of the "fusion of news and comment" by some newspapers.

He assumed that soldiers had brought their story to the Mirror for financial gain, did not have the pictures initially and they then materalised. "If those pictures are genuine it is reasonable to present them in the way they were presented. If, on the other hand, they were not genuine and staged for political or commercial reasons, then that is unacceptable," he told the Public Administration Select Committee.

He said that if newspaper editors decided to be a political players they should face up to some of the rules of the political game. Asked about Mr Morgan's position, he said: "If it transpires that these pictures are fake, staged, a hoax - then I don't honestly see how his position is tenable."

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