Soldier 'too afraid to tell truth' on Baha Mousa

A former British soldier has described for the first time how he saw two fellow servicemen beating and kicking a helpless Iraqi prisoner, shortly before he died.

The death of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, has for years cast a shadow over the reputation of the British army, producing the first case in which a British soldier, Corporal Donald Payne, confessed to a war crime.

Yesterday, Garry Reader, a former private in the Queen's Lancashire Regiment who served in Basra, told a public inquiry he thought that Corporal Payne and another soldier, Private Aaron Cooper, were to blame for Baha Mousa's death.

He said that he had kept quiet about what he had seen up to now, withholding part of the truth in previous witness statements, because he was frightened of Corporal Payne and because he feared that speaking out would damage his future in the army.

Baha Mousa, the father of two young children, died a day after he was arrested by British troops in a hotel in Basra. He was found to have 93 injuries. In 2006, Corporal Payne was dismissed from the army and sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty to mistreating a civilian.

Six other soldiers who faced the court martial were all cleared. Last year, the then Defence Secretary, Des Browne, ordered a public inquiry into Mr Mousa's death.

Giving evidence yesterday, Mr Reader said he had seen Mr Mousa, handcuffed but not wearing a sandbag hood over his head like the other prisoners.

"He looked dazed and didn't seem to me to be aware of anything around him. I don't believe he was a threat. I do not even believe he was trying to escape. I just think he was injured and wanted to get help," he said.

"Payne and Cooper were shouting, 'get on the fucking floor'. I saw them struggling with him. One of them – I cannot remember which one – was trying to get the sandbag on his head. Baha Mousa was struggling and he seemed to be trying to break free. I saw Payne and Cooper kicking and hitting Baha Mousa, trying to get him in the room."

He added: "I believe that Corporal Payne and Private Cooper caused the death of Baha Mousa as I have described above."