British soldiers unlikely to face Iraq war prosecutions as more than 1,000 allegations dismissed

Samuel Osborne
Former lawyer brought more than a thousand claims involving British military following 2003 invasion of Iraq: Giles Penfound/British Army via Getty Images

Thousands of war crime accusations against British soldiers in Iraq will face no further action, the director of the Service Prosecution Authority (SPA) has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action programme, Andrew Cayley said independent investigators had dismissed almost all of those allegations due to the “low level” of offending and lack of credible evidence.

Mr Cayley said one case was still being considered but it was “quite possible” the accusations will ultimately result in zero prosecutions.

Former lawyer Phil Shiner brought more than a thousand claims involving the British military following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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

Mr Cayley said he was also confident no action would be taken in a separate International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into alleged abuses by British soldiers.

“My sense is these matters are coming to a conclusion," he said, adding he expected ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda "will close the preliminary examination this year in respect of Iraq and the United Kingdom".

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) said Mr Cayley's admission raised wider questions about military power as the armed forces are the only institutions in the UK allowed to run their own criminal courts and prosecution service.

Symon Hill, PPU campaigns manager, said: “For years, we have listened to retired colonels and pro-military columnists whipping up a fantasy about ‘witch-hunts’ against British armed forces personnel.

“The reality is very different: despite years of allegations, and evidence uncovered by investigative journalists, the armed forces’ own prosecutors have now decided to drop nearly all cases.

“This is not only about the individual allegations involved. The politicians and generals who led the invasion of Iraq have still not been held to account for the death and destruction they caused.

“Now we have another reminder of the power of the military: they are the only institution in the UK that is allowed to run their own criminal courts and prosecution service, making their own decisions about whether their staff should face prosecution.”

Solicitor Hilary Meredith, who represented soldiers investigated by the defunct Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat), called for a public apology over the probe.

She said: “At long last, this witch hunt is coming to an end. Thousands of lives have been ruined as a result of these false claims.

“The Ihat probe, which hounded hundreds of innocent troops over vile war crime slurs, was closed down in 2017.

“Thousands of lives were ruined by the £57m unit set up in 2010 to pursue allegations of wrongdoing during the Iraq War. But it did not result in one prosecution.

“Andrew Cayley has now drawn the same conclusion saying that there is no credible evidence of wrongdoing.

“Ihat’s closure also came at a price – not only the cost to the taxpayer but the shattered lives, careers, marriages and health of those falsely accused over many years.

“I am now calling for a meaningful, public apology.”

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