Detained geologist ‘heartbroken’ at missing daughter’s wedding celebrations

The family of Jim Fitton, 66, has renewed its appeal for UK ministers to help free him from Iraq.

Richard Wheeler
Sunday 08 May 2022 12:20
Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in Iraq (Family handout/PA)
Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in Iraq (Family handout/PA)

A retired British geologist at risk of being executed overseas is “heartbroken” at missing his daughter’s wedding celebrations, his family said.

Jim Fitton, 66, was sent photographs of Leila and her husband Sam Tasker’s festivities as he continues to be detained in Iraq over artefact smuggling allegations.

Ms Fitton, 31, and Mr Tasker, 27, held a small ceremony – which was restricted to close friends and British family due to Covid – in their home city of Bath, Somerset, last August.

A larger bash with TV and film art department freelancer Ms Fitton’s extended family in Malaysia, where her father and mother Sarijah also live, took place on Friday and Sunday.

From left to right: Jim Fitton’s wife Sarijah Fitton, his son-in-law Sam Tasker, daughter Leila Fitton, and son Joshua Fitton (Family handout/PA)

But Mr Fitton was forced to miss out – with his family expecting court proceedings against him to begin in Iraq this week.

He was held after collecting stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the country’s south-east, during an organised geology and archaeology tour in March, according to his family.

They said the items were later judged to be artefacts under Iraqi law and the charge levelled at Mr Fitton states “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution”.

The family has renewed its appeal for Foreign Office ministers to help free the father-of-two, with a petition collecting more than 124,000 signatures.

Supporters have also written letters to MPs in a bid to increase the pressure on the Foreign Office.

Mr Tasker said Mr Fitton’s son Joshua filled the roles required for the wedding ceremonies in Malaysia.

Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Tasker said of his father-in-law: “He wasn’t able to give Leila away; her brother had to kind of step up and give her away.

Jim with his wife Sarijah Fitton, centre, and his daughter Leila Fitton (Family handout/PA)

“He was obviously heartbroken and just sent us a message saying, ‘You all look great. Best of luck. All my love to you all.'”

He said Mr Fitton, “as he has been doing throughout”, has been “putting on a brave face and trying not to make it about him, really, which is antithetical to the point because all we’re thinking about is him”.

He added: “We sent him some photos across and he remarked that the house looked amazing, because Leila’s mum put a load of work into making the house look nice and getting the flowers and all the rest of it arranged and set up.

“He apologised for not being there as well, which is obviously out of his control.

“He seems to be doing OK and I think it was kind of a bittersweet moment for him really; it’s lovely to see the photos and everything but he’d prefer to be with us, of course.”

Mr Tasker, who works in sales support for an outsourcing company, said a “keep calm and carry on” approach was adopted for the celebrations.

He also said: “We are just doing everything we can to get political engagement from Foreign Office ministers, really.”

Mr Tasker praised the support from the UK embassy staff in Iraq but said they have “one hand tied behind their back by political decision-making”.

He added: “That’s what we need to change and that’s what we continue to push for.”

Mrs and Mr Fitton (Family handout/PA)

Mr Tasker said his family is “grateful” for the support its campaign has received, adding: “We just need to reach critical mass of pressure on the Foreign Office before it’s too late.

“It’s a shame that we have to approach it in that way but it is what it is.

“So we continue to push because we can’t do anything else – and we’re not giving up.”

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling has previously said the UK has “raised (its) concerns” with the Iraqi authorities “regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle”.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, said: “At the end of the day the Foreign Office is still abandoning Jim.

“I cannot understand why they are still refusing to help Jim.”

Ms Hobhouse added: “I will be using all of the avenues I can to pressure the Foreign Office to intervene.”

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