UK

Iraq case law firm Leigh Day 'had no sinister agenda'

Left to right: Anna Crowther, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik Image copyright PA
Image caption Left to right: Anna Crowther, Martyn Day and Sapna Malik are accused of misconduct

Lawyers handling claims that British troops tortured civilians during the Iraq War had no "sinister financial incentive", a tribunal has heard.

Leigh Day pursued damages claims against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over allegations of abuse by British soldiers in Iraq in 2004.

Defence lawyer Patricia Robertson QC said the firm had "no agenda" to make money from the eight war crimes claims.

The firm and solicitors Martyn Day and Sapna Malik deny 19 misconduct charges.

Another solicitor, Anna Crowther, denies an allegation of destroying a key document.

Ms Robertson told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in London: "No-one here is fired up by an agenda to do down the Army."

She added the firm and three lawyers "frequently" represented soldiers in civil claims and took "great pride" in doing so.

Five-year inquiry

Leigh Day pursued damages claims over the alleged mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives at Camp Abu Naji following the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004.

Among them was a claim by Khuder Al-Sweady that his nephew, Hamid Al-Sweady had been murdered and tortured by the British army.

The resultant Al-Sweady inquiry later dismissed the claims as "entirely false", and found Hamid had been an armed insurgent who died in battle.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), which brought the case, has accused Leigh Day of pursuing the claims despite holding key evidence that "undermined" their authenticity.

Leigh Day had a document showing the claimants were not civilians but linked to the radical Shia group Office of the Martyr Al Sadr (OMS), the tribunal has heard.

Ms Robertson admitted it was a "cock-up" to fail to disclose the document but denied it could have prevented the claims getting as far as the five-year Al-Sweady inquiry.

She said: "No-one is suggesting that the OMS list was deliberately overlooked. It's fully accepted that the OMS list is significant - that has never been denied.

"Not spotting its significance was a cock-up and that's frankly acknowledged and much regretted by all clients," she said.

'Pair of loonies'

The tribunal has heard that Leigh Day received some £9.5m for its work on compensation cases.

Ms Robertson said these fees had not been the result of the eight claims the tribunal was concerned with, but from more than 300 "successful" claims settled by the MoD, out of around 950 mistreatment cases brought by the firm.

She said the eight claims had "turned to dust in their hands in a way that they just did not see coming".

She added: "The idea that this is all about some sinister financial incentive just does not get out of the starting blocks."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Iraqis were detained by British troops after a fierce battle in 2004

The tribunal also heard that Martyn Day, the firm's co-founder, had contacted the BBC's Panorama programme, which was also looking into claims of mistreatment of Iraqi detainees, in order to "test" the strength of their own claims.

In an email to a former colleague, Mr Day had said he hoped to collaborate with the programme-makers.

Reading the message to the court, Ms Robertson said: "This will be immensely powerful to have the BBC on side, and the Guardian, to make sure we don't end up looking like a pair of loonies."

More on this story