Seven deaths in British custody: MoD may be forced to hold inquiries in public

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The Ministry of Defence could be ordered to hold public inquiries into the deaths of at least seven Iraqis who died in military custody.

The move is widely anticipated by human rights groups after the High Court ruled last week that the UK had broken legislation by failing to investigate properly the death of an Iraqi hotel worker, Baha Mousa.

In a damning and far-reaching judgement, the court ruled that the MoD was bound by the European Convention on Human Rights to hold full, independent inquiries into the death of any foreign national being held in military custody or detention.

It found the MoD had failed to do so in the Baha Mousa case - breaching two articles of the convention and the Human Rights Act. The judges were also highly critical of all the internal MoD investigations it studied, branding them "one-sided", "dilatory" and lacking accountability.

New material which came to light during the High Court hearing reveals that medical staff tried for 15 minutes to resuscitate Mr Mousa after he collapsed following his alleged ill-treatment by troops on 14 September last year.

The Baha Mousa case, first exposed by The Independent on Sunday on 4 January, is one of seven incidents where the MoD admits that Iraqi civilians died after being arrested by British troops.

Those cases, which include incidents uncovered during further investigations by the IoS, include the death of a detainee called Tanik S Mahmud on an RAF helicopter when he was under arrest by the RAF Regiment.

In May 2003, four men died in custody, including one 17-year-old boy who drowned after allegedly being forced by troops to swim a river after being severely beaten. Another incident involved a headmaster allegedly beaten with rifle butts.

The MoD is expected to appeal against the High Court ruling and it insists that it still needs time to finalise the prosecution of the soldiers allegedly involved in Mr Mousa's death.

It also denies that any of the deaths in custody are linked. "Our analysis demonstrates no pattern which would indicate there is a systematic problem," it said.

But Amnesty International and Adam Price, the Plaid Cymru MP who has pursued the alleged abuse cases in the Commons, said that the legal and moral case for a full inquiry was now unavoidable. Amnesty International said a failure to investigate fully at this point could itself lead to a new legal complaint with the European Court.

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