The British military investigator who was found dead in his quarters at Basra had examined almost every single serious allegation of abuse of Iraqi civilians by British troops
Captain Ken Masters' workload had been immense and involved some of the most high-profile abuse allegations against soldiers in Iraq.
They include the cases of the fusiliers convicted of abusing prisoners at Camp Breadbasket near Basra and a paratrooper who has been charged in connection with the death of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist.
Many felt he had an advantage in dealing with soldiers because he had risen through the ranks and could thus empathise with the rank and file.
However, former associates of Captain Masters, the 96th British serviceman to die in Iraq since the start of hostilities in March 2003, described yesterday how his role placed him in an invidious position - seeking to see fair play, yet attempting to prevent individual soldiers being used as scapegoats. The publicity that accompanied his cases may also have unsettled him, said the sources in England.
Captain Masters was acutely aware of the sentiment within the military that indicted soldiers are taking the blame for an increasingly unpopular war. Some soldiers have openly expressed anxiety that actions they chose to take may leave them exposed to criminal charges in the future.
The pressures in Basra reached a new intensity in the last weeks of Captain Masters' life, when British forces found themselves increasingly engaged in action against Shia militias. Just a few weeks ago, troops faced local police heavily infiltrated by the militia and a violent crowd which, according to the British military, was also orchestrated by the militia.
A further indication of the pressures that Captain Masters may have been under came last week with the unexpected warning by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, that senior British officers had made a "concerted attempt" to block an investigation into the killing of Sergeant Steven Roberts, a tank commander from Shipley, West Yorkshire, who was shot dead days after he was told to hand back his body armour due to a shortage of equipment.
Lord Goldsmith revealed that he felt it necessary to move the case to the civilian jurisdiction and said Sgt Roberts' case was one example of why top commanders might not be trusted to handle murder investigations.
Cases which were settled within the aegis of military courts also proved controversial. Although the allegations of abuses at Camp Breadbasket resulted in convictions, the process was tainted by accusations that relatively junior soldiers had been made scapegoats, while senior military officers escaped without censure.
"Many senior officers have been saved from the same fate only by their rank," said a solicitor for Daniel Kenyon and Mark Cooley, two of the convicted soldiers. General Sir Michael Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, denied the claims.
The other serving British soldier to have died in similar circumstances was also a member of the Royal Military Police Special Investigations Branch (SIB).
Denise Rose, from Liverpool, joined the Royal Military Police in 1989, trained as an SIB investigator in 1995 and investigated serious incidents within the military in the UK and Cyprus before serving in Iraq.
Captain Masters, who was married with two children, was commissioned from the ranks in 2001 and served most of his career with the SIB. His family is believed to be living in Northern Ireland. He was not receiving any medical or psychological treatment and no suicide notes were found when his body was discovered at the main British military base in Basra.
The Ministry of Defence has stated that Captain Masters, the commander of the 61 Section of the SIB, "did not die from hostile action and no one else was being sought over the death".Reuse content