UK

Al-Sweady inquiry: Ex-officer denies stalling probe

Iraqis being guarded by British soldier Image copyright PA
Image caption The Iraqis were detained by the British after a fierce gun battle in 2004

A former army officer has denied he or his troops were deliberately uncooperative with an investigation into allegations of wrongdoing by British troops in Iraq.

Matthew Maer also told the Al-Sweady Public Inquiry he did not order the destruction of photos of dead Iraqis.

The inquiry is investigating claims detainees were mistreated and killed at a British base after a battle in 2004.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) denies the allegations.

Former brigadier Mr Maer, who was commanding officer of First Battalion the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (1PWRR) at the time of the so-called battle of Danny Boy, left the Army in 2012.

Lawyers acting for several Iraqi clients claim some were taken alive following the battle and mistreated or unlawfully killed at the nearby Camp Abu Naj (CAN) base.

The MoD has said any deaths occurred on the battlefield.

'Religious sensitivities'

It has remained unclear so far as to who ordered the unusual decision of taking bodies from the battlefield back to the CAN base.

The British army says it wanted to check whether one of the dead Iraqis was an insurgent thought to have been involved in the killing of six Royal Military Police officers in 2003.

Mr Maer told the inquiry he thought the order had come from brigade headquarters in Basra, but had focused on dealing with its potential consequences rather than questioning it.

"I was concerned because it was a sensitive issue in a number of ways, not least of which was religion which was the need to have the dead buried before sunset the following day. So there were cultural and religious sensitivities as well," he said.

Mr Maer said there "was no policy whatsoever" to not make witnesses available to the Royal Military Police (RMP), which was conducting the investigation into allegations of wrongdoing.

He also said he did not remember giving an order to a fellow officer, Captain James Rands, to make sure any inappropriate photograph of enemy dead, wounded or prisoners were destroyed.

In a statement to the inquiry, dated November 2013, Mr Maer said the allegations were a "slur" on British troops.

"Had the alleged mistreatment and murder taken place, I have no doubt that the truth would have come out by now," he said

"Otherwise, there would have to be a massive conspiracy amongst a very large number of people, holding for over nine years now, despite the RMP and the judicial reviews proceedings and this inquiry."

Set up in 2010, the inquiry is named after one of the Iraqi men, 19-year-old Hamid al-Sweady, who is alleged to have been unlawfully killed while being held after the so-called Battle of Danny Boy.

The inquiry continues.

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