Taskforce to investigate Iraqi civilians' 'torture'

One of the country's former top policemen is to head a team of investigators who will travel to Iraq to interview witnesses of the alleged murder and torture of civilians by the British Army.

The taskforce will report to a retired High Court judge who is chairing the inquiry into the events which took place in Iraq in 2004.

Inquiry chairman Sir Thayne Forbes, who presided in the murder trial of Harold Shipman, said defence officials will be forced to disclose documents and provide witnesses if they do not co-operate with the new public inquiry into Iraqi abuse claims.

The Al-Sweady Inquiry is looking into allegations that British soldiers murdered and tortured Iraqi civilians in the aftermath of the "Battle of Danny Boy" in southern Iraq in 2004.

It will report on claims that 20 or more Iraqis were unlawfully killed and others ill-treated at a UK base in Maysan Province called Camp Abu Naji.

The Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth announced the inquiry after admitting that there had been "failures" in the Ministry of Defence's disclosure of documents to lawyers for some of the alleged victims.

The team of four investigators, all retired police officers, appointed to help the inquiry is headed by former detective chief superintendent Stephen Condon.

Mr Condon led one of Scotland Yard's murder squads and was an adviser to the defence team that had the former Kosovan prime minister Ramush Haradinaj cleared of war crimes charges in April 2008.

He and his unit are unlikely to visit Iraq because of security concerns and will probably have to interview Iraqi witnesses in a neighbouring country, inquiry secretary Lee Hughes said.

Stressing that the inquiry was at a very early stage, Sir Thayne appealed for people to help with the investigation. "I would ask that anyone who has any relevant information to contribute should provide it as soon as possible to the inquiry solicitor," he said.

"Anyone who has any suggestions to make about a possible line of inquiry is also asked to do the same, as soon as possible."

The chairman also noted that he did not have powers to make any findings of criminal or civil liability.