CPS investigates 'friendly fire' death of soldier in Iraq

An alleged unlawful killing in Iraq involving British soldiers is to be investigated by the Crown Prosecution Service. It is believed the case involves an incident in March last year when Sergeant Steve Roberts, a 33-year-old commander with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was killed by "friendly fire" as he tried to placate a crowd in Basra.

The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith recommended the inquiry two days ago following consultation with the Army Prosecuting Authority (APA). An Army officer and four soldiers face the prospect of a criminal trial, it was reported last night.

The sergeant's widow, Samantha, later accused Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, of failing to ensure that British troops in Iraq had sufficient body armour after it emerged her husband had handed his body armour to his colleagues.

Two weeks ago Trooper Kevin Lee Williams of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment was charged with the murder of a civilian in Iraq.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office said: "The Attorney General, following consultation with the Army Prosecuting Authority and the Crown Prosecution Service, asked the CPS on 23 September to consider whether charges should be brought in a case involving a number of British soldiers. The case concerns an alleged unlawful killing in Iraq."

A spokeswoman at the Attorney General's Office was only prepared to say that the latest case involved a shooting incident. She said: "We can reveal few details as the case is still under investigation and we don't want to prejudice any possible case in the future. Some of those involved have not even been told yet."

Sgt Roberts died on 24 March last year as he tried to fend off an Iraqi who was attacking him with a rock. Although the demonstration appeared to be dying down, another soldier pulled out a pistol and fired at the Iraqi but shot Sgt Roberts by mistake. The soldier allegedly ignored the Army's rules of engagement. Other soldiers in the two tanks involved in the incident also allegedly failed to take appropriate action.

The Attorney General's office added that the case was one of a number being considered by the APA - seven other cases remain under "active consideration". These could be referred for civilian prosecutions or courts martial or it could be decided there was no evidence to bring charges.

The latest case was the second to be referred to the CPS while two others have been referred for court martial. The previous case to be referred to civilian authorities was that of Trooper Williams, 21, who was arrested on 7 September. He is due to appear at the Old Bailey on 28 September to face charges of the murder of lawyer Hassan Abbad Said in Iraq in August last year.

Mr Said, also known as Hassan Abdul Said, was allegedly shot while being arrested in the British zone of southern Iraq. Detectives from Scotland Yard were asked to investigate the case in May this year by the Attorney General, and Trooper Williams was arrested.

Two other deaths thought to be under investigation happened within hours of Mr Said's shooting. Hazam Jumah Kati, 60, and Abd Al Karim Hassan, 25, were killed by British troops on the outskirts of Basra on the evening of 4 August 2003. The men, who were unarmed, were shot as they walked back home in near darkness. Mr Kati was hit by seven bullets and Mr Hassan by five.

The Yard inquiries are being overseen by Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and Commander Andy Baker of the murder squad.

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