Veterans fight back – Major Robert Campbell heads landmark legal action after “18 years of hell” and “wanting to die”

A decorated retired former Army officer whose life has been ruined by bogus war crime charges is heading up a landmark legal action on behalf of a group of veterans who have been smeared by false allegations of war crimes.

Major Robert Campbell was accused of drowning an Iraqi man in Basra in 2003. A judge said those claims were based on lies, collusion and a “possible conspiracy” to pervert the course of justice.

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. Shiner was struck off as a solicitor in 2017 after being found guilty of misconduct and dishonesty relating to false abuse claims against troops.

Hilary Meredith Solicitors is acting for Major Campbell and around 30 other Iraq veterans in their proposed legal action against the Ministry of Defence and Phil Shiner’s professional indemnity insurers.

The veterans have launched a crowdfunding appeal at:

https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/major-robert-campbell/

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team, which harassed 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. In its seven years of existence, IHAT failed to prosecute a single soldier.

Commenting on the landmark action, Robert Campbell said:

“In 2003 I was falsely accused, with two other soldiers, of murdering an Iraqi civilian called Said Shabram, by drowning him. On behalf of my soldiers, and the thousands of others who were falsely accused, I am now bringing legal action after enduring 18 years of hell.

“I faced unending false allegations and investigations which completely broke me.

“Whenever I asked for help, everyone in the MoD said that it was somebody else’s problem. At this point I just wanted to die. Our ordeal seemed endless.

“Though the Hallett report finally exonerated us, it did not undo the harm perpetrated by the MoD on all the soldiers involved.

“I was subjected to eight different investigations. The outcome of the eighth investigation was the same as the outcome from the first. Each time, I was told that the case was closed, to ‘move on and put it behind you’, only for another investigation to open up. There was never any apology, and we were expected to carry on as if it had never happened.

“I am angry that the Army and the MoD abandoned us – all serving soldiers. Angry that despite the two key Iraqi witnesses being exposed as liars in 2006, the MoD and IHAT chose to expose us to constant legal jeopardy to protect the Army’s own reputation.

“During the investigations, I wrote to eight Generals asking for some very basic assistance – such as support to pay my lawyers. None would help and no one from the MoD would listen. Every General I approached told me the repeated investigations were necessary for PR reasons, or that I just needed to accept ‘it’s going to be uncomfortable’.

“Once the chain of command had failed us, I tried writing to Defence Ministers. I wrote to Penny Mordaunt, Mark Lancaster, Mike Penning, Des Browne, Michael Fallon, Gavin Williamson, and Liam Fox to inform them what IHAT was doing and how we had been discarded by the Army. Those that did reply all responded the same way: ‘All allegations of wrongdoing must be investigated’ and they were not going to help. We were alone.

“I tried to be the best officer I could be and received four separate awards during my career for bomb disposal. These awards and medals became meaningless by the constant accusations, so in 2017 I returned my medals to the Queen in protest. I struggled to deal with the repeated investigations. The ordeal overwhelmed me and I tried to take my life several times.

“We have all been broken by this appalling process and as a result, all of my innocent soldiers were driven from the Army and have received treatment for mental health conditions. This was on top of the violence of our operational tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of blameless soldiers have been abandoned by the Army on false allegations by Phil Shiner, and no-one has ever received any acknowledgement or apology.

“When I was discharged from the Army in 2018, I was diagnosed with PTSD, co-morbid anxiety and a depressive disorder. By 2017/18, my military therapists were of the view that only medical discharge away from a military environment might help me address my mental health issues.

“I am unable to work and suffer acute PTSD due to my operational service and unnecessary legal trauma that the MoD put me through for its own political purposes. I am not alone – thousands of other soldiers and veterans have suffered at the hands of the Army and the MoD in the same way.”

Commenting on the case, Hilary Meredith, Chair of Hilary Meredith Solicitors and Visiting Professor of Law and Veterans’ Affairs at the University of Chester said:

“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.

“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 solicitor 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 Military Cross for gallantry and leadership under fire in Iraq in 2004 during the battle of Danny Boy.

But, five years later, the father-of-two received a letter through the post informing him that he was being investigated for murder.

“The allegations were of the highest order – unlawful killing, mutilation and mistreatment of prisoners of war,” said Brian, whose story has been made into a BBC drama, Danny Boy.

“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 and the trauma that we had seen on the battlefield.”