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Red Cap families' dismay at Iraq court acquittals

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Media captionThe father of Corporal Simon Miller, John Miller, described his ''shock" and "devastation''

Relatives of six Royal Military Police soldiers killed in Iraq in 2003 have said they are finding it difficult to come to terms with the court acquittal of two men accused of the murders.

Two Iraqi men were cleared by Baghdad's criminal court due to lack of evidence.

John Hyde, the father of Lance Cpl Benjamin Hyde, questioned the speed of the decision to dismiss the case.

Cpl Russell Aston's widow Anna said she was not surprised but could "never be 100% sure" the verdicts were correct.

The military policemen - or Red Caps - were killed by a mob in the southern Iraqi town of Majar al-Kabir.

The Red Caps who died alongside Cpl Hyde, 23, of Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and Cpl Aston, 30 from Swadlincote, Derbyshire, were: Sgt Simon Hamilton-Jewell, 41, from Chessington, Surrey; L/Cpl Tom Keys, 20, from Bala, North Wales; Cpl Paul Long, 24, from Tyne and Wear, and Cpl Simon Miller, 21 from Washington in Tyne and Wear.

During proceedings lasting two hours, the court heard testimonies from 11 witnesses, mostly Iraqi police, but none of them said they had seen Iraqis Hamza Hateer or Mussa Ismael al Fartusi kill the Red Caps.

Mr Hyde told Sky News: "Quite honestly these people just haven't been in court long enough to be able to prove their innocence, which obviously asks the question why did the judge decide to bring it to court then dismiss it so quickly?"

Mrs Aston said the court's decision was "no great surprise" and because there was no forensic evidence "you don't really know who's guilty and who's not".

But she added: "It is very strange how quickly they were acquitted. It makes you think the judge was under some sort of pressure. I will never be 100% sure if they were the ones who pulled the trigger. I have to let go to find my own peace of mind."

Cpl Aston's father said the verdict denied him "some sort of closure".

"I was hoping to get it from this case, to find out exactly what happened to my son and also to see those who are guilty of his murder jailed."

Iraqi politics

The Conservative MP Rory Stewart, a former deputy governor of Maysan province where the attack happened, told BBC News the court decision was "very sad".

"Perhaps as many as 400 people were involved in this incident and will have seen what happened. Unfortunately, this has all got bound up with Iraqi politics.

"The people involved in killing the military policemen were connected to the Sadrist militia groups, who are part-politicians, part-gangsters.

"I'm afraid it's a very sad sign about how the Iraqi justice system is operating."

Image caption Lance Cpl Hyde's father does not feel enough evidence was heard in court

In February, Iraqi authorities took eight people into custody over the deaths. Six had charges against them dropped and only two stood trial.

A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: "We know that the families of the six servicemen will be devastated by today's events and our thoughts remain with them.

"Seven further arrest warrants remain outstanding and are being actively pursued by the Iraqi authorities.

"We will continue to do all we can to press for the prosecution of those responsible."

But Cpl Miller's father John told the BBC he did not think there was "a hope in hell's chance" of getting the outstanding warrants enacted.

He said he had understood that the "hard part was getting the accused to the actual court. And I thought it was just cut and dry from there".

He added he was left "devastated" by the court's decision as the case has "consumed myself and my wife for seven years".

He was also critical of the decision to deny the families access to the hearing.

Mr Miller said: "My son was let down so badly in life, now he has been let down so badly in death."

He added: "I don't understand how this can happen. This is exactly why we wanted to be at the trial, we needed to be there. We were denied that, we were denied everything."

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