British soldier faces murder charge over death of Iraqi man

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A British soldier appeared before a court in London yesterday accused of murdering a civilian in Iraq.

A British soldier appeared before a court in London yesterday accused of murdering a civilian in Iraq.

Kevin Williams, 21, was brought before a civilian court after his own commanding officer had initially dismissed the charges. The trooper with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment was arrested yesterday by detectives and taken to a London police station for questioning. He was then charged with the murder of Hassan Said on or before 3 August 2003 in ad-Dayr, west of Basra.

Trooper Williams appeared before Bow Street magistrates' court and spoke only to confirm his name. His alleged victim is believed to have been shot while being arrested in the British zone of southern Iraq.

Detectives from Scotland Yard were asked to investigate the case in May this year after it was referred to the Attorney General by the Army Prosecuting Authority, an independent body.

In a statement yesterday, Lord Goldsmith said: "As I indicated in my written statement to the House on 14 June, this case, which involves an alleged unlawful killing by shooting of an Iraqi citizen during the course of an arrest, was brought to my attention after charges were dismissed by the soldier's commanding officer. This meant the case could not be tried by court-martial. I referred it to the Crown Prosecution Service who asked the Metropolitan Police for assistance in collecting further evidence."

Yesterday, a Scotland Yard spokesman said that an investigation was carried out by the Metropolitan Police's Homicide Command, part of the Specialist Crime Directorate. The arrest this morning followed advice from the CPS.

In court yesterday, Deborah Walsh, for the prosecution, said the Crown had no objection to Trooper Williams being granted bail. He was bailed on the condition that he remain at Knightsbridge barracks in central London last night before transferring to Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

Trooper Williams, who is due back in court on 28 September, may not leave without the permission of an officer, report daily to the Royal Military Police post at Catterick barracks, surrender his passport and undergo an examination by two medical practitioners.

Asked at his monthly Downing Street press conference about allegations of criminality and misconduct by British soldiers in Iraq, Tony Blair said: "There are rules that our soldiers abide by, and incidentally the vast majority of them do the whole time, but anyone who commits a criminal offence will be charged, as we made clear."

To date, 131 cases of deaths or injuries of Iraqi civilians have been investigated or are still under inquiry.

Eighty-two have arisen since tensions rose in April. Of these, 70 arose when British servicemen returned fire while under attack, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said yesterday.

Of deaths in custody, three have been investigated and no further action is to be taken, three are awaiting further action and one is still under investigation.

Fifty-eight other deaths have been the subject of investigation, with 45 ongoing, eight deemed to require no further action and five still under consideration. The last time soldiers appeared in a civilian court accused of murder in an operational situation was in the early 1990s.

In 1993 Lee Clegg, a British soldier serving in Belfast, was convicted of murdering a teenage joyrider and wounding her companion. He was released on licence in 1995, and cleared on appeal of the charges.