Rachel Webster story in The Telegraph – response by Hilary Meredith-Beckham

The Telegraph has reported how a former Army captain faces the threat of jail if she refuses to cooperate with an official inquiry into the deaths of two Iraqis almost 20 years ago.

Rachel Webster, 53, has already received an apology and compensation for her wrongful arrest in 2014. The arrest came after she declined to give a statement against an ex-boyfriend.

Ms Webster has now received a summons to “assist” a new inquiry over the deaths in custody of two Iraqi civilians in 2003, shortly after the coalition invasion.

Ms Webster spoke of her distress at being dragged into the inquiry conducted by the Iraq Fatality Investigations unit, a judicial body headed up by Baroness Heather Hallett, a retired Court of Appeal judge. The letter telling her she was required to give evidence was sent out of the blue a day before the Easter weekend to the home of her elderly parents.

“My mum called me. She was hysterical,” said Ms Webster. “The idea I could face imprisonment is terrifying.”

Ms Webster was not present at any of the incidents but was previously investigated by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT), an MoD-funded unit that was disbanded after it emerged that hundreds of false claims of abuse had been submitted to it by Phil Shiner, a solicitor subsequently struck off for dishonesty.

Speaking to The Telegraph, Ms Webster, who at the time was a sergeant in the Royal Military Police, said: “The IHAT inquiry was a farce and this has brought it all back. It has left me distraught. It is upsetting for me and also for my mum who is 77 and who went through it all with me the first time when I was arrested. Just the threat of imprisonment is so worrying. It is really distressing.

“I didn’t do anything wrong but this letter has brought it all back and inevitably people will raise questions over my integrity.”

Having undergone therapy for some years, Ms Webster said she is now suffering fresh nightmares, waking up at 5.30am each morning – the time when she was taken from her home by IHAT investigators. She stresses that she was not present at the time that two Iraqi men died.

In 2014, a year after Ms Webster left the Army, she was dragged from her home in London and driven 80 miles to a military base where she was detained for 14 hours and questioned. IHAT investigators had wanted her to give a statement about an ex-boyfriend who had also served in Iraq.

The IHAT inquiry into Ms Webster was shut down after two-and-a-half years in 2016. It later accepted her arrest had been “unnecessary” and expressed regret for the distress caused.

Ms Webster served in the military for 24 years, rising to the rank of captain and receiving a Commanders’ Commendation in Kosovo for her work with rape victims. She performed four tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan and was photographed with Tony Blair in Basra soon after the invasion.

The new investigation conducted by Baroness Hallett into the deaths of Radhi Nama and Mousa Ali, who died five days apart in May 2003, was opened in November 2020 with hearings due to begin at the end of the month. The IFI is not a criminal investigation but more like a quasi-inquest.

In the letter to Ms Webster, the IFI official wrote: “It is believed that you can assist Baroness Hallett by providing evidence to her Investigation.”

The letter states that the investigation is “concerned with establishing the immediate and wider facts and circumstances of the deaths” but “is not concerned with determining civil or criminal liability”.

The letter requests Ms Webster should provide a “signed statement” relevant to the inquiry. Under the IFI’s powers, the letter goes on, a refusal to help the inquiry “without good reason” could lead to a High Court order requiring Ms Webster to attend a public hearing or provide a statement. “If you fail to comply with that order you may be liable to a fine or prison sentence,” states the letter.

Hilary Meredith-Beckham, Ms Webster’s solicitor: “These investigations just go on and on and on. Rachel is only a witness. Is it right to bring this all back for people like Rachel? This cannot happen again. It is pretty shocking that after all this time she has received an official letter like this sent to her elderly parents. From Rachel’s point of view everything is shut and closed and this has caused yet more trauma for Rachel.”

Hilary Meredith Solicitors is bringing a legal claim against the MoD on behalf of dozens of Iraq War veterans who claim they were unfairly investigated by IHAT.