British soldiers falsely accused of brutality and abuses against Iraqi civilians between 2003 and 2009 are preparing a landmark legal action against the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which hounded thousands of innocent troops, was shut down on 30 June 2017. Countless lives were ruined by the £60m probe – set up in 2010 – to pursue allegations of wrongdoing during the Iraq War.
Disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner’s Public Interest Lawyers and other law firms made more than 3,500 allegations involving the British military following the invasion of Iraq in 2003, using legal aid funds. Mr Shiner was struck off as a solicitor in 2017 after being found guilty of misconduct and dishonesty relating to false abuse claims against troops.
Earlier this month, the director of the Service Prosecution Authority (SPA) said just one remaining case was being examined. Andrew Cayley said the “low level” of offending and lack of credible evidence had led most cases to be dismissed.
Solicitor Hilary Meredith is now preparing a legal action on behalf of those falsely accused.
Founder of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester, Hilary represented soldiers investigated by IHAT, and provided evidence to the Parliamentary Inquiry which led to its closure. She commented:
“After months of discussions we are now ready to go public with this action.
“The conduct of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team is one of the most shameful episodes in modern legal history. Thousands of British soldiers were falsely accused of war crimes. The whole investigation was a witch hunt based on deceit.”
Veterans’ Minister Johnny Mercer has previously branded IHAT a “poisoned well” and hit out at a “rotten core” of MoD civil servants who he said had warped the purpose of the process.
Continued Hilary Meredith:
“The MoD has clearly breached the duty of care it owes to our service personnel and veterans.
“They owe a duty of care in law, under the military covenant, morally and ethically to stand by those who serve. Instead, they allowed IHAT to pursue innocent troops with false evidence of vile war crimes.
“The falsely accused have paid a huge price – shattered lives, broken marriages, ruined finances, stalled careers, poor mental and physical health.”
“Disgraced lawyer Phil Shiner, who has now been struck off, made soldiers’ lives a misery by pursuing false claims of torture and murder. He was encouraged by the MoD and paid from the public purse. It is as despicable as it is unbelievable.”
Brian Wood MC was awarded the highly prestigious Military Cross for his actions in Iraq in 2004 when his unit was ambushed.
But, five years later, the father-of-two received a letter through the post informing him that he was being investigated for murder under the Iraq Historic Abuse Team.
The false claims were later thrown out and the lawyer in charge of many of the cases was struck off for misconduct.
“The allegations were of the highest order – unlawful killing, mutilation and mistreatment of prisoners of war,” said Brian.
“I can speak for me and my soldiers and what they’ve put us through for that period of time, it was damaging to a degree of careers, marriage split ups and also fuelling the fire of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and the trauma that we had seen on the battlefield.”
The Defence Committee investigating IHAT has previously labelled the probe an “unmitigated disaster”. MPs said that IHAT had subjected serving and retired troops to “deeply disturbing” treatment and had “directly harmed” UK defences. The MoD was blamed for empowering law firms to generate cases that lacked credibility on an “industrial scale”.
At the time, Chair of the sub-committee inquiry – and now Veterans’ Minister, Johnny Mercer said: “Throughout this process there has been an almost total disregard of the welfare of soldiers and their families.
“The MoD must take responsibility for allowing this to happen. They could have discriminated between credible and non-credible cases yet they lacked the will to do so.”
Concluded Hilary Meredith:
“I agree with the Veterans’ Minister – it is now time for the MoD to take responsibility for allowing this to happen.”