Up to 20 Iraqi civilians may have been executed by British troops in southern Iraq, it was claimed today.
Lawyers published a dossier of what they said was evidence from men taken captive after a gun battle near the southern Iraqi town of Majat-al-Kabir in May 2004. It also suggested prisoners were tortured and mutilated by UK military.
The allegations were first reported within weeks of the incident, known as the Battle of Danny Boy, named after the checkpoint where it took place, but lawyers for five Iraqis today issued detailed witness statements, photographs of corpses and death certificates of the men who died.
The claims – which the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) strongly denies – are among the most serious yet levelled against British soldiers who served in Iraq.
Solicitor Phil Shiner said of the dossier: “We would be very surprised if it did not shock the nation.”
He acknowledged the bulk of the evidence relied on the men’s interpretation of what they heard while blindfolded, and that no post-mortem examinations had taken place on the bodies of the 20 dead.
But on the basis of current evidence he believed his clients were telling the truth.
“It may be that none of this happened,” he said.
“We need a public inquiry to establish the facts.”
A spokesman for the BBC’s 'Panorama' programme, which has spent a year examining the claims, said evidence contained in the programme did not prove Iraqis had died at the hands of British captors, but that prisoners may have been “mistreated”.
Lawyers Mr Shiner and Martyn Day suggested that prisoners captured after the three-hour gun battle may have been taken to a British base at Abu Naji and killed.
Detailed witness statements from the five men – Hussein Jabbari Ali, Hussain Fadhil Abass, Atiyah Sayid Abdelreza, Madhi Jassim Abdullah and Ahmad Jabber Ahmood – described what they heard while in detention, when they were cuffed and forced to wear blacked-out goggles.
The statements described how they heard other men screaming, moaning in pain and choking and also the sound of gunfire.
Mr Abdelreza’s statement said: “I believed people were being killed. I have never heard anything like that sound ever before in my life.”
The lawyers are bringing a damages claim in the UK courts, and say the five witnesses are labourers who have lived all their lives in Majar and had “absolutely nothing” to do with insurgents.
Mr Shiner said: “If what we have taken as evidence in the High Court proceedings is true the perpetrators of these crimes were merciless and unbelievably brutal and cruel.”
Showing images of corpses from the battle, Mr Day said: “The nature of a number of the injuries of the Iraqis would seem to us to be highly unusual in a battlefield.
“For example, quite how so many of the Iraqis sustained single gunshots to the head and from seemingly at close quarter, how did two of them end with their eyes gouged out, how did one have his penis cut off (and) some have torture wounds?
“For the Iraqi version of events to be true, soldiers and officers from the British army would have to have conspired to cover up one of the most atrocious episodes in British Army history.”
The solicitors called for an ongoing investigation by the Royal Military Police (RMP) to be taken over by Scotland Yard.
Other scandals involving treatment of detainees by UK forces in Iraq suggested cover-ups had taken place, he continued.
“The notion of British soldiers getting together and conspiring to avoid prosecution seems to have worked for the British Army pretty well in the past,” said Mr Day.
The lawyers’ claims will be examined in a 'Panorama' programme on Monday.
A BBC spokesman said: “Panorama has spent over a year talking to battlefield survivors, medical staff and Iraqi former prisoners in Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.
“The programme critically examines claims made by lawyers who are representing the Iraqis in their action against the British government.
“Of all the allegations they make, the programme concludes that the evidence is strongest that prisoners were mistreated.
“Panorama has seen no proof that prisoners died at the hands of their captors at or after the Battle of Danny Boy.”
An MoD spokesman said: “Allegations of mistreatment, unlawful killing and mutilation by British troops following an incident at Vehicle Checkpoint Danny Boy were thoroughly investigated by the RMP.
“Their investigation lasted 10 months, involved the interviewing of over 150 British personnel and 50 Iraqi nationals, and found no evidence to support these allegations.
“New allegations are part of an ongoing RMP investigation and judicial review and it would be inappropriate to comment further.”