Soldiers' Iraq murder trial collapses

The soldiers, all members of the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, have been found not guilty of murder and violent disorder.

The soldiers were standing trial accused of murdering 18-year-old Nadhem Abdullah in an attack on a group of Iraqi civilians in al-Ferkah, 60 miles north of Basra, in May 2003.

Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett today directed the military panel hearing the court martial in Colchester, Essex, to clear the seven defendants of all charges against them.

He said: "In relation to all the defendants, after discarding the evidence that is too inherently weak or vague for any sensible person to rely on it, prosecution evidence taken at its highest is such that a reasonable jury or court martial board properly directed could never reach the high standard of proof required to be sure of the guilt of any defendant.

"In those circumstances it is my duty to remove the case from the board now and direct that they return verdicts of not guilty to the charge of murder against all seven defendants."

During the trial Martin Heslop QC, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Abdullah was an "innocent" teenager who died after being subject to a gratuitously violent attack during which the paratroopers used their rifle buts, helmets, fists and feet.

The court heard that blood matching the dead man's DNA was found in a screw recess on Private Samuel May's rifle.

The cleared soldiers are Corporal Scott Evans, 32, Private Billy Nerney, 24, Samuel May, 25, Morne Vosloo, 26, Daniel Harding, 25, Roberto Di-Gregorio, 24, and Scott Jackson, 26.

Before directing the panel to clear the soldiers, Judge Blackett said he considered the investigation into the case had been "inadequate".

He said: "It has been established during the course of the case that the investigators made serious omissions in not searching for records of hospital admissions or treatment and not establishing whether there was a register at Al Najaf shrine in which Nadhem's burial may have been recorded."

Judge Blackett also criticised investigators for not taking DNA swabs from Nadhem's siblings to exclude them as a possible source of the blood on Private May's rifle and for not analysing the DNA swabs taken from the defendants.

He also said it had been a "significant error" to have waited six months before interviewing the defendants under caution or taking fuller statements from the Iraqi witnesses.

Judge Blackett said that the Iraqi witnesses had admitted using the case to obtain money from the British Army.

"They frequently spoke of 'fasil' or blood money and compensation to what were patently exaggerated claims," he said.

However, Judge Blackett said he had no criticism to make of the prosecution or the Army prosecuting authority.

During the trial, he said it became clear that the main Iraqi witnesses had exaggerated and lied about the alleged incident.

"Had the Iraqi witnesses turned out to be credible, then the case would have been stronger," he said.

Judge Blackett commiserated with Nadhem's family over his death, but said it would have been "a miscarriage of justice to blame these seven defendants collectively for that death".

A legal source at today's hearing estimated it had cost £10 million to stage the trial.

Mr Heslop QC, prosecuting, was not in court for today's decision.

Speaking after the decision, Rex Tedd, representing Corporal Evans, said: "These are very courageous men doing a very dangerous job in difficult circumstances.

"To have a charge as grave as this hanging over a man's head when he's a serving soldier is very difficult indeed.

"Corporal Evans will be going home today to his family with his head held high. His relief today is unlimited."

Christopher Hill, Private Vosloo's solicitor, said: "It's been very difficult. It's been a terrible strain. I don't think it has quite sunk in that it is all over."

Mr Hill said that Mr Vosloo had come from South Africa to join the British Army and remained "proud" of it.

"It is ironic that a few years ago he was playing cricket in South Africa with Kevin Pietersen. While Kevin Pietersen was winning the Ashes, my client had a murder charge hanging over him."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral