European court victory on civilian deaths in Iraq

A public inquiry into the alleged ill-treatment and unlawful killings of Iraqi civilians by British troops is a step closer after a landmark European judgment granted them permission to seek redress in the British High Court.

Public interest lawyers, who are representing hundreds of Iraqis, described yesterday's ruling by Europe's highest court, the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, as a "historic days for human rights". The Ministry of Defence will now face questions about the deaths of children such as Hanaan Salih Matrood, an 8-year-old girl who died after being shot by a British patrol while she played in an alley near her home in August 2003.

Jim Duffy, a lawyer, said: "The Court's judgment sends a clear message: wherever soldiers or other state agents act, they must do so whilst upholding, not violating, human rights. The violence, religious degradation, sexual abuse and, in many cases, gratuitous killing suffered by our clients must now be confronted."

In a double blow for the Government, the court also ordered the Ministry of Defence to pay Hilal Abdul-Razzaq Ali Al Jedda €25,000 (£22,500) in compensation and €40,000 in legal costs, after ruling that his three-year imprisonment violated his human rights. British armed forces detained hundreds of civilians in Iraq without charge.

An MoD spokesperson said: "We are disappointed by these Strasbourg judgments and we will consider them in detail before deciding on our next steps."

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