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Officer 'lied' to inquiry into Mousa's death

A former Army commanding officer was accused yesterday of lying to a public inquiry into the death of an Iraqi civilian in his soldiers' custody.

Colonel Jorge Mendonca said he saw nothing out of the ordinary when he checked on the hotel worker Baha Mousa and several of his colleagues after their arrest in Basra in 2003.

But Rabinder Singh QC, counsel for Mr Mousa's family and the Iraqis detained with him, told the inquiry the officer either witnessed a "horrific scene" in the temporary detention facility (TDF) where the Iraqis were held, or did not visit them at all.

Mr Mousa, 26, died in the custody of 1st Battalion the Queen's Lancashire Regiment (1QLR) in Basra on 15 September 2003, having suffered 93 injuries. Colonel Mendonca, the former commanding officer of 1QLR, told the inquiry in February that he visited Mr Mousa and the other men on the evening of 14 September. He said: "If I had noticed any injuries to any detainees or any of them appearing to be in any distress I would have immediately queried the situation. However, there was nothing that alerted me to any type of problem."

Mr Singh alleged that the Iraqi prisoners were beaten by soldiers in the group led by Lieutenant Craig Rodgers before Colonel Mendonca claimed to have made his visit.

Mr Singh said: "It's not just that he was in overall charge and therefore must take responsibility for what happened on his watch. But also there is reason to doubt his evidence to this inquiry. I have in mind particularly what he told you about his visiting the TDF on Sunday evening.

"And yet his evidence was that the detainees were quiet and there didn't seem to be anything worth troubling about. Now either of two conclusions may be possible. The first is that he has not told the truth about what he saw because he must have seen a horrific scene and he should have done something about it. Or perhaps he never went, and realised after the event that he should have done."

Mr Singh agreed with the inquiry's chairman, Sir William Gage, that the second possibility was more unlikely.