British geologist ‘not sure when will speak to family again’ as he is moved to Iraqi jail

Son-in-law says Jim Fitton has been moved to jail unexpectedly early

Zoe Tidman
Friday 10 June 2022 15:06 BST
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Jim Fitton (centre) has been jailed for 15 years in Iraq
Jim Fitton (centre) has been jailed for 15 years in Iraq (Reuters)

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A British geologist convicted of smuggling in Iraq has told his family he is “not sure” when they will speak again before being moved to jail, his son-in-law has said.

Jim Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison earlier this week by an Iraqi court after being accused of attempting to smuggle shards of broken pottery and stones out of the country.

The 66-year-old’s family said the verdict was “tantamount to a death sentence” and maintain Mr Fitton was unaware he was committing any crime at the time.

They told The Independent he has now been moved to a prison unexpectedly early.

Sam Tasker, his son-in-law, said Mr Fitton was transferred to jail on Thursday. He added: “We don’t know where. Somewhere in central Baghdad.”

He said the family spoke to Mr Fitton “briefly” the night before. “He said, ‘Well, I’m not sure when we’re gonna be able to speak again’. And now he’s gone.”

Jim Fitton with his wife Sarijah and his daughter Leila
Jim Fitton with his wife Sarijah and his daughter Leila (PA Media)

Leila Fitton, his daughter, told The Independent they understood her father would stay in airport detention for 10 days and then be moved to another temporary centre before prison.

But they later found out the father-of-two would be going straight to jail within hours.

Wera Hobhouse, the MP who represents Mr Fitton’s family in the UK, said: “This is really worrying and frankly this nightmare could have been avoided if the British government decided to intervene before Jim was sentenced.”

“Jim is not a criminal. He is a 66-year-old who has been deserted by the British government. The foreign secretary must open her eyes and intervene at the highest level.”

Mr Fitton ‘has been deserted by the British government’, according to his family
Mr Fitton ‘has been deserted by the British government’, according to his family (PA Media)

Mr Tasker told The Independent the family felt “abandoned” by the Foreign Office and were yet to speak to anyone with decision-making capacity in the department.

“They’ve had the same response to comment for 12 weeks. Nothing has changed about how they’re handling the situation. And they continue to say they are providing consular support.”

He said this consists of contact with two officials who have helped them to navigate the case with details for lawyers and translators. But it has not consisted of any “engagement” or “political statement even tacitly backing us”.

His family are now preparing to appeal the 15-year prison sentence and are hoping to get political weight thrown behind it.

Mr Fitton was arrested at the airport earlier this year after picking up unguarded shards of broken pottery and stones at a historical site after being assured they had no value, according to a petition run by his family.

The retired geologist – who had been visiting Iraq on a geology and archaeology tour – was accused of trying to smuggle historical artefacts out of the country.

His family had been worried about the possibility of execution, which is the statutory punishment for the crime.

Volker Waldmann, right, and Mr Fitton, centre, are handcuffed as they walk to a courtroom in Iraq
Volker Waldmann, right, and Mr Fitton, centre, are handcuffed as they walk to a courtroom in Iraq (AP)

He was handed 15 years in prison on Monday. A German national, Wolker Waldmann, was also tried for smuggling but was acquitted.

Mr Tasker told The Independent said Mr Fitton had remained “calm“ since his sentencing.

“It’s the way he copes with things. Obviously … if he freaks out, we’re all freaked out. So he’s trying to kind of keep everybody else calm. He was as shell-shocked as we were really,” his son-in-law said.

“He said – classic Jim – he felt bad for the lawyer. Our lawyer was great and did a really good job.”

He added: “That’s the kind of man he is.”

The Foreign Office has been approached for comment.

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