Sgt Major told troops to give Iraqis 'a good kicking', court told

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The Independent Online

British soldiers were told to give Iraqi looters "a good kicking", a court martial in Germany heard yesterday.

Former Sergeant Major Richard Jackson allegedly told soldiers, who are accused of abusing and assaulting Iraqi prisoners at a supply camp near the southern city of Basra, that it was camp policy to punish the Iraqi thieves.

Mr Jackson, who has since left the Army, allegedly took another soldier's rifle and took pot-shots at Iraqi thieves hiding in sand dunes outside the camp in a "reckless and negligent" act, the court heard.

Mr Jackson denied telling anybody to kick the Iraqis or shooting at suspected thieves.

The evidence was heard at the court martial in Osnabrück, Germany, of three British soldiers, Cpl Daniel Kenyon, 33, L/Cpl Mark Cooley, 25, both from Newcastle upon Tyne, and L/Cpl Darren Larkin, 30, from Oldham, Greater Manchester. The alleged abuse took place at a supply depot known as Camp Bread Basket on 15 May 2003 after soldiers took part in an operation codenamed Ali Baba, which involved rounding up Iraqi looters who had been robbing the depot daily.

Joseph Giret, representing Cpl Kenyon, said: "I suggest you did say to Cpl Kenyon that 'we have a massive problem here and you will play a part in capturing them'.

"You went on to tell them that 'what we do when we capture these looters is give them a good kicking. 'That's what we do and if you can't handle that, then pass them back to me and I'll sort them out'."

The court heard that Mr Jackson was told to brief Cpl Kenyon about the details of the mission to capture looters. But Mr Jackson was sent to Kuwait and Cpl Kenyon's section never received a briefing about what they should do. The court heard it was "common practice" at the camp to make captured Iraqi looters clean up the mess they had made. John Mulheran, who was regimental quartermaster sergeant technical at the camp, told the court there was an atmosphere of frustration at the camp over the looting problem.

He said the looters were getting bolder and had even broken into the soldiers' living quarters and stolen their personal belongings. Mr Mulheran said the looters were "quite prolific and quite daring".

The court was told later that a soldier already convicted in connection with the trial of British troops accused of torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi civilians, was a "nutter" who liked violence so much that he had been advised to seek psychiatric help.

During cross-examination, Mr Giret revealed that Fusilier Gary Bartlam, who was convicted a fortnight ago in connection with photographs of the alleged assaults, had only been billeted with the Royal Fusiliers in Iraq for a week. But within that time, he had managed to earn a reputation as "something of a nutter".

Lawyers for the three accused have based their defence on arguments that the commanding officer of Camp Bread Basket camp, Major Dan Taylor gave illegal orders to "thrash" (an army term which denotes to work someone hard) detained Iraqi civilians which were both in breach of the Geneva Convention and contrary to army instructions. They argue that the orders created a climate which encouraged the accused to abuse and torture Iraqis.

The three accused face nine charges including assault, disgraceful conduct of an indecent kind and prejudicing military order. Cpl Kenyon and L/Cpl Cooley deny all the charges; L/Cpl Larkin admits one charge of assault.