Families of killed Iraqis accuse MoD of tampering with evidence

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Lawyers for the families of 12 Iraqis alleged to have been shot or beaten to death by British soldiers accused the Ministry of Defence yesterday of tampering with evidence that could support compensation claims against the Government.

Lawyers for the families of 12 Iraqis alleged to have been shot or beaten to death by British soldiers accused the Ministry of Defence yesterday of tampering with evidence that could support compensation claims against the Government.

The allegations include soldiers returning to the scene of shootings to remove bullets and other incriminating evidence.

In one case a bullet-riddled door was removed and in another the Army allegedly asked permission to dig up a body but refused to disclose any post- mortem report.

The families' lawyers said they intended to seek an emergency High Court order preventing any further alleged interference or tampering with evidence relating to the court proceedings. News of the move came as solicitors representing the Iraqi families said they had lodged the substantive claims in the High Court.

Phil Shiner, a solicitor for the families, said: "We are now seeking a very, very urgent directions hearing ... which will not allow the Government to interfere with the evidence."

The filing of the 12 human rights claims begins what is expected to be a lengthy legal process that could go as far as the House of Lords or the European judges in Strasbourg.

It came as Tony Blair confirmed to the House of Commons that more British troops were to be sent to Iraq to bolster the existing 7,500-strong force. Mr Blair suggested that the new troops could be deployed outside Basra for the first time. He told MPs: "We are in discussion with our coalition partners and with the American and other coalition troops about the possibility of providing more troops for different parts of the country."

Mr Shiner, of the Birmingham-based Public Interest Lawyers, said the 12 cases against the Government were the "tip of the iceberg" and said there would be more.

He said the cases had massive implications for the human rights of foreign civilians who fell under the control of British forces and urged the courts to bring the judicial review cases to trial by July.

He claimed the Government had shown "contempt" for the principles of human rights and democracy in its actions towards relatives of those killed by British forces in Iraq since the end of the war.

"It seems the British troops have not been instructed or trained in appropriate rules of engagement for occupation of Iraq, bearing in mind there are real differences between Basra and Belfast," he said.

The families are seeking an independent inquiry to establish the cause of the deaths and a military internal inquiry would not be acceptable, he said.

Mazin Younis, a caseworker at Public Interest Lawyers, described how he had travelled to southern Iraq to interview the victims' relatives. At a press conference in London yesterday he showed pictures of some of the victims and their families, including children who had lost a parent.

He told of Iraqi civilians who had survived alleged beatings by British soldiers after they were taken into custody. He described how there were alleged instances when interrogation suspects were hooded and forced to hold their hands up in front of them or face a severe beating.

He added that British forces also used a name memory game. "They said, 'If in 10 minutes you don't remember them then we will beat you very hard'." He said some of the names used were ones such as "Edgbaston." Mr Younis also described how a young boy called Ali died after running out of his house to be with his father.

He said one or two of the claimants had been offered "donations" of £500 by the MoD in return for signing away their rights to legal action. "They were signing a final settlement but they thought they were just signing a receipt," he said.

It was during these interviews with the families that he first heard about the alleged "attempts to hide evidence".

In one case an eight-seat people carrier, used by one of the families as a taxi, was being held by the Ministry of Defence because it was riddled with bullet holes from shots fired into the back of the vehicle.

Mr Shiner said that when the family asked for the car to be returned they were told that this was not possible because it "would adversely affect any legal proceedings".

He said none of those whose relatives he represented had posed any threat to British troops and that all had been killed after President George Bush declared an end to major combat operations.

The dead, he said, included a man who drowned in British custody, a 13-year-old boy killed by a cluster bomb and a man shot when soldiers raided his brother-in-law's home.


Mazim Jum'aa Gatteh al-Skeini, 23, unemployed

It was a case of the wrong place at the wrong time for the 23-year old unemployed man when he was shot dead in front of his family at 11pm on 4 August 2003 as he attended a neighbour's funeral at Al Majidiyah. According to his brother, who is claiming compensation on behalf of their parents, Mr Al-Skeini was in the street walking towards the house where mourners were gathered. British troops responding to the traditional shooting in the air of Iraqi funerals opened fire. He claims people suffered ''intense shock at the sheer number of bullets fired in such a short space of time''.

Another man Abed Abdul Kareem Hassan, was also killed in the incident. It is claimed Lieutenant Colonel Ciaran Griffin, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion, the King's Regiment, wrote to local elders of the tribe acknowledging responsibility and offering a donation of £540 to the family. In the letter he explains how patrolling soldiers mistakenly believed that a dangerous gun battle was underway and also pointed out that the men of the funeral party were acting illegaly by using their weapons on the street.

Ahmed Jabbar Kareem Ali, 17

Ahmed Jabbar Kareem Ali's father claims his son was arrested at Saad Square, Basra on 8 May 2003 after British troops opened fire. He says he was beaten by soldiers. The family allege that he was among a number of detainees ordered to swim across the River Zubair by the soldiers. He drowned. It is alleged that the British Army exhumed the body of the boy at Najaf Ashraf after paying a local grave digger $250.

Despite referring the matter to the Compensation Tribunal, Mr Jabbar Kareem Ali says he has received no response from the military commanders. He insists there is a witness to his son's beating.

Mr Jabbar Kareem Ali, who is unemployed, and his wife, who is parlaysed, say they have been devastated by the death of their son.

In his deposition Mr Kareem Ali said: "I am distraught about the events that led to my son's death. As a parent my feelings are deep and I am suffering from great sadness.

"Trying to discover how my son died and pressing for an investigation has left me tired and exhausted. My son's death has been a huge loss to the family."

Raid Hadi al-Musawi, 29, policeman

The police commissioner was shot and seriously wounded while making a delivery to a judge's house late in the evening of 27 August 2003. It was his job that day to carry a box of "suggestions and complaints" to the judge. On his way there, he stopped at his mother's to have dinner before continuing his task.

Before he made the delivery, it is alleged that he came across a British patrol on its usual tour of the surrounding area. He was shot and seriously wounded. He died nine weeks later. His mother, who is seeking compensation from Britain, says she does not know whether he was deliberately targeted or whether he was caught in warning fire allegedly emanating from the British armoured vehicle.

Mrs Rayahi reported her son's death to the British Army and was sent a letter from the headquarters of the 20th Armoured Brigade - dated December 3 - confirming that Mr Musawi had died in hospital three days earlier. She still has not received any compensation.

She says: "I understand also that there were no other parties involved in shooting in this incident; that is, there was no fire towards the British soldiers ... I wish to pursue a claim in the British courts."

Abbas Kuhdayar Gatteh, 28

The family of Mr Gatteh initially dropped their complaint against the British Army. But the death of the main wage earner in the family has left them in difficulties.

Mr Gatteh was killed during preparations for prayers at the family home in Abi al-Khusaib on 6 May 2003. A British patrol smashed down theirdoor, the family claim. Mr Gatteh, 28, went to find a weapon but the soldiers allegedly opened fire, killing him instantly.

The family say an army general visited them to apologise and offer condolences but they were stopped from making a complaint by the military authority.

Baha Ahmed al-Awari, 23, school guard

An angry crowd came face to face with British soldiers during a protest at a school in Al Hayaniya on the very hot morning of 1 September 2003. It is alleged that British troops opened fire, hitting 23-year-old Mr Awari - a school guard who was watching the confrontation from nearby. His family discovered him laying injured in the street after being told by a neighbour he was hurt. They took him to hospital but he died from his injuries before he could be treated. The family were unaware they could claim for compensation and never pursued the matter.

Muhammad Abdul Ridha Salim, 45, teacher

British soldiers smashed down the door of the home of Mr Salim's brother-in-law which he was visiting in Andalus, Basra, during a raid on 5 November 2003.

The soldiers were acting on an anonymous tip-off which claimed armed men were gathering inside.

The teacher, 45, was shot in the stomach by a soldier from C Company, 1st Battalion, the King's Regiment, using a rifle with attached silencer. Amid scenes of panic, Mr Salim was taken to hospital where he died. The British military conceded they had been misled over the tip-off.

Hanan Shmailawi, 29, mother

The family were breaking their fast during Ramadan in November last year at the Institute of Education in Basra al-Maaqal, where Mrs Shmailawi's husband worked as a porter, when British troops opened fire from outside the building.

The 29-year-old mother was hit in the head and ankles and died later in hospital.

The family said that soldiers from C Company, 1st Battalion, the King's Regiment, had been on the roof of one of the buildings at the time of the shooting. They had been inquiring after the porter.

Waleed Fayayi Muzban, 43, driver

Mr Muzban, 43, was returning home on 24 August 2003 in his nine-seater KIA people carrier when he came under heavy fire, allegedly from British troops patrolling the area.

His family claim the bullets that hit him exploded inside his body - releasing poisons which later killed him. The family say they have received £540 in compensation, but the vehicle has yet to be returned after British troops impounded it.

They say they are not sure whether the money is for the vehicle or the loss of Mr Muzban.

Jaafer Hasheem Majeed, 13, schoolboy

Only 12 days after the end of the war, on 13 May 2003, the 13-year-old was killed when a cluster bomblet went off as he played in the street outside his home at Basra Haaritha. His father was inside watching the boy play. He suffered extensive injuries and died before reaching hospital.

His mother, Hashim Majeed Awdeh, said: "I have no idea why the British soldiers ... had not identified this particular unexploded sub-munition and rendered it harmless. I understand that [the sub-munition] was left over from a bombing raid during the war."

Lafteh Ahmed Awdeh, 22, agricultural worker

A column of British trucks driving at high speed near the village of Zariji on 4 September was forced to swerve to avoid a ditch in the road - throwing the 22-year-old agricultural worker into the air killing him instantly. Locals claim the column failed even to stop or acknowledge the accident. No report was made to the authorities.

Mr Awdeh's father, Ahmed, said: "My son died immediately as a result of the severe injuries suffered, including numerous broken bones. The truck that hit him sped away and the rest of the column of vehicles just followed."

Riyadh Turki Taha Yaseen, 65, farmer

The 65-year-old went to collect tools to fix the water pump that he and his son had worked on until late in the evening at their farm near Nashwa, Basra, on 8 July 2003. It is alleged that patrolling British soldiers mistook an iron handle from a hammer he was holding for a weapon and shot him dead in front of his son. The family are demanding an immediate investigation.

The man's son, Ahmed Riyadh Turki Taha, said: "When my father picked up the hammer one of the soldiers mistook it for a weapon, and shot and killed him. I was near to him and had a clear view of events."

Kasber Farhoud Jasim, fisherman

It was the fishing season so many locals had taken to the river on the night of 3 June 2003 to cast their nets. Mr Jasim's boat was approached by a British river patrol near Madrassa Furat, al-Karneh. Witnesses said he suddenly fell into the water.

Despite initially believing he had lost his balance, his cousin Abdullah Farhoud Jasim says he now believes he was shot by someone aboard the military vessel. The fisherman's body was later pulled from the river by villagers. He had a single wound to the head.