A discredited multi-million pound Government probe into allegations against Iraq war veterans will be shut down within months, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed.
Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) will close in the summer and around 20 ongoing cases will be dealt with by the Royal Navy Police.
He also confirmed around 90% of misconduct cases involving British troops who served in Afghanistan are being dropped.
Ihat is estimated to have cost £34 million of the £60 million originally set aside for the investigation.
What has prompted the announcement?
Sir Michael announced the measures after a scathing report by MPs branded Ihat an “unmitigated failure”.
The inquiry was established by the MoD in 2010 to probe claims of abuse of Iraqi civilians by troops following the 2003 invasion.
The Defence committee said it has become a “seemingly unstoppable self-perpetuating machine” that has “proved to be deaf to the concerns of the Armed Forces, blind to their needs, and profligate with its own resources”.
The inquiry, led by a former army captain, found exploitation by law firms generated more than 3,500 cases, despite many having no credible evidence.
Not one prosecution has been secured while war veterans had been “hung out to dry”, the report said.
What are the report’s leading criticisms?
- MoD mismanagement “empowered” two law firms, Public Interest Lawyers and Leigh Day, to “generate cases against service personnel at an industrial level”.
- Investigators used “intimidatory tactics”, including “deeply disturbing” methods such as impersonating the police, while serving and retired soldiers were also spied on.
- There had been an “almost total disregard” for the welfare of troops and veterans who were treated in an “unacceptable manner as a result of serving the United Kingdom”.
- The MoD refused to allow Iraq veterans to give evidence to the committee.
- Veterans “lives have been put on hold and their careers damaged, sometimes for years” because of the allegations made against them.
- “Serious” failings led to a £110,829 payment of public funds to an Iraqi middleman, Abu Jamal, who was bringing “spurious and unassessed” cases against war veterans.
- The MoD “could have discriminated” between credible and non-credible cases but “lacked the will to do so”.
A soldier’s response: ‘It was just a little bit heart-breaking’
Some of the most serious allegations investigated by Ihat surrounded what became known as the “Battle of Danny Boy” in 2004.
Brian Wood, who won the military cross for his part in the encounter, told ITV News: “To be questioned for the brave actions that we (did) on the battlefield, and our integrity also was in question, it’s just a little bit heart-breaking to be honest.”
Asked how the questioning had affected him, he said: “I can only speak for myself but it did sort of push me back into a darkish hole that I was in.”
What is the Ministry of Defence’s response?
The Defence Secretary said he was “very pleased” to confirm Ihat would be wound up this summer but defended the MoD after the report’s claims of failings.
Sir Michael said the department deserved credit for helping to bring an end to Ihat having been instrumental in getting Phil Shiner, who ran Public Interest Lawyers, struck off last week.
Shiner was found to have acted dishonestly earlier this month in bringing murder and torture claims against Iraq war veterans.
“It was the MoD that supplied the main evidence that got Phil Shiner struck off for making false allegations against our Armed Forces,” Sir Michael said.
“Exposing his dishonesty means many more claims he made can now be thrown out and the beginning of the end for Ihat.”
The Defence Secretary said Ihat’s disbanding would be “a huge relief to hundreds of British troops who have had these quite unfair allegations hanging over them”.
Sir Michael said new measures would be put in place to “ensure this never happens again”, including “proper safeguards to prevent completely malicious and unfounded allegations being made against our brave servicemen and women”.
What is the response of the Leigh Day law firm?
Leigh Day said the 15 cases of alleged abuse it referred to Ihat were brought “solely against the MoD and not individual soldiers”.
The law firm also distanced itself from the allegations made against the now-closed Public Interest Lawyers.
Leigh Day said it had notified the MoD of 80 Afghan citizens who allege they have been abused and or illegally detained.
The law firm said it understood the cases, which include “a number of allegations of unlawful killings”, had been passed onto the Royal Military Police by the MoD.