Dozens of cases in which British soldiers are accused of unlawfully killing Iraqi civilians have already been referred to prosecutors, The Independent can reveal, with more than 50 deaths set to be examined.
The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (Ihat) has sought advice from the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) on unlawful death cases involving 35 alleged killings, and 36 cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment, it can be disclosed.
The SPA – the military equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service – is preparing to advise on an additional 20 cases of unlawful killing and 71 cases of mistreatment in the near future.
The director of the SPA has vowed that his team would not “flinch” in prosecuting British soldiers where there is evidence of unlawful killing and torture.
Andrew Cayley QC, a former war crimes prosecutor, told The Independent: “Make no mistake we will give all these Ihat cases the thorough scrutiny the law requires and if prosecution is warranted we will not flinch from proceeding.
“Equally I want to make it absolutely clear that no member of the British Armed Forces will be prosecuted unless there is sufficient evidence to do so.”
The Independent revealed last week that Ihat, the body created by the MoD to investigate the allegations, believed there may be enough evidence to bring criminal charges in some cases.
But the news that dozens of unlawful killing cases have already been shared with prosecutors highlights how seriously the allegations are now being treated.
It will also fuel the backlash against law firms Leigh Day and Public Interest Lawyers (Pil), which represent the majority of claimants, and have already been dubbed “ambulance-chasers” by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.
Mr Cayley made clear that military prosecutors would give the allegations close scrutiny. “I have spent the past 20 years of my professional life advising and prosecuting in cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes,” he said. “I know very well what these crimes look like.”
It emerged this week that Leigh Day has been referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal, after the MoD complained about the firm, and Pil, to the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) last year. The allegations, which both companies deny, include touting for business. A decision on Pil will be made in the near future, according to the SRA.
Britain remains under scrutiny by the International Criminal Court, which is continuing a preliminary examination of war crime allegations. It is dealing with 1,268 cases of alleged ill-treatment and unlawful killing. Some 259 civilian deaths are being examined, including “at least 47 Iraqi persons who reportedly died in UK custody and others who were allegedly killed by UK services personnel in situations outside of custody,” according to a recent ICC report.
So far, Ihat has referred just two cases to the SPA for a charging decision. Although a decision not to prosecute has been taken on these two cases, a far greater number are approaching the stage where charges may be considered.
According to the prosecutor’s latest annual report, it is dealing with 33 alleged unlawful death cases involving 35 victims “and approximately 36 cases of mistreatment and abuse, involving multiple complainants”. And there are an additional 20 cases of unlawful killing and 71 cases of mistreatment where legal advice from prosecutors “will soon be required”.
In a statement, a Pil spokesperson said: “It is becoming increasingly pressing for the Ihat and SPA to demonstrate they are willing to prosecute culpable individuals when there is evidence to do so. Ihat was established in 2010 and some five years on there has not been a single prosecution as a result of its work. This raises questions as to its ability to deliver results for victims and relatives.”
An MoD spokesperson said: “The vast majority of UK personnel deployed on military operations conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law. The MoD takes all allegations of abuse or unlawful killing extremely seriously. Where there is sufficient evidence, members of HM Forces can be prosecuted.”