The long-running Al-Sweady inquiry, which cost the British taxpayer £31m, concluded in its final report that the conduct of some soldiers towards detainees breached the Geneva convention.
But it was highly critical of the claims it was initially set up to investigate — that Iraqi detainees had been murdered, mutilated and tortured following the Battle of Danny Boy on May 14, 2004, near Al Amarah in southern Iraq.
It found that British forces responded to a deadly ambush by insurgents with “exemplary courage, resolution and professionalism”.
And it suggested some of the detainees — all described as members or supporters of the Mahdi Army insurgent group — consciously lied about the most serious allegations to discredit the British armed forces.
Defence secretary Michael Fallon said the report had shown beyond doubt that all of the most serious allegations were “wholly without foundation”.
He told MPs the report “puts to rest once and for all these shocking and, as we now know, completely baseless allegations”.
And he said the Ministry of Defence (MoD) would try to recoup public money spent on a judicial review of the incident, but was unable to claim back any of the cost of the public inquiry.
Delivering his final report after a five-year process which began in November 2009, inquiry chairman Thayne Forbes found there had been instances of ill-treatment during “tactical questioning” of the detainees at Camp Abu Naji (CAN), near Majar-al-Kabir in southern Iraq, on the night of May 14-15.
These included depriving the prisoners of sight, food and sleep, and using threatening interrogation techniques contrary to the Geneva Convention.
Thayne wrote: “I have come to the conclusion that the conduct of various individual soldiers and some of the procedures being followed by the British military in 2004 fell below the high standards normally to be expected of the British Army.
“In addition, on a number of other occasions, my findings went further.
“I have come to the conclusion that certain aspects of the way in which nine Iraqi detainees were treated by the British military, during the time they were in British custody during 2004, amounted to actual or possible ill-treatment.”
Lawyers representing the alleged victims’ families had already admitted during the public inquiry that there was no evidence of unlawful killing.