Army hero accused of drowning Iraqi in 2003 cleared of wrongdoing

British Army hero accused of drowning an Iraqi teenager in 2003 is cleared of wrongdoing following ’17-year witch-hunt’

  • Maj Robert Campbell, 47, was accused of drowning an Iraqi teenager in Basra
  • Incident in 2003 sparked a 17-year inquiry into the former British Army hero
  • Baroness Hallett has now cleared Maj Campbell of any wrongdoing in report
  • Judge ruled allegations were based on lies, collusion and ‘possible conspiracy’
  • Maj Campbell said he is ‘relieved’ but ‘angry’ at the MoD for ‘abandoning’ him 

A decorated Army Major vexatiously accused of drowning an Iraqi teenager at the time of the Anglo-US invasion has been cleared of any wrongdoing following a 17-year witch-hunt.

Major Robert Campbell, 47, was investigated on bogus claims that he forced suspected looter Saeed Radhi Shabram Wawi Al-Bazooni, 19, into a river at gunpoint in Basra in May 2003.

Eyewitnesses had claimed that Maj Campbell and colleagues from the 32 Royal Engineer Regiment caused Saeed Shabram’s death after he slipped below the water and failed to resurface.

The incident sparked an inquiry into the British Army hero, who even returned his medals to the Queen in 2018 in disgust at the way he had been treated by the Ministry of Defence. 

But a judge has now ruled that the allegations against Maj Campbell were based on lies, collusion on the part of Iraqi civilians and a ‘possible conspiracy’ to pervert the course of justice. 

It is the latest of more than 4,000 cases brought by disgraced solicitor Phil Shiner and his Public Interest Lawyers against British soldiers to have collapsed because of a lack of evidence. 

Major Robert Campbell, 47, was investigated on bogus claims that he forced suspected looter Saeed Radhi Shabram Wawi Al-Bazooni, 19, into a river at gunpoint in Basra in May 2003

Timeline from the death throughout the probe: 

2003 – Saeed Shabram drowned in the Shatt Al Arab waterway near where Maj Campbell and his men were washing their vehicles. Munem Auda, a second man, survives. Royal Military Police launch an investigation.

2004 – Maj Campbell is charged with manslaughter by his commanding officer.

2006 – Maj Campbell’s chain of command tell him the case is closed and to ‘put it behind him’.

2008 – The MoD’s Aitken report lists the Shabram as one of six examples of ‘deliberate abuse and unlawful killing in Iraq’.

2010 – Shabram and Auda’s families lodge civil claim through law firm Leigh Day, who worked with disgraced solicitor Phil Shiner and his Public Interest Lawyers.

2011 – MoD pays £100,000 in compensation to Sharam’s family and £45,000 compensation to Auda.

2013 – Iraq Historic Allegations Team reopens the investigation

2015 – Maj Campbell interviewed under caution as part of a murder investigation.

2017 – IHAT recommends manslaughter charges. However, the director of the Service Prosecution Authority writes to Maj Campbell to say they are taking no further action. Shabram’s family seek legal review.

2018 – Case transferred to Iraq Fatalities Investigations, a form of judicial enquiry, led by Sir George Newman.

2019 – Sir George Newman dies. Baroness Heather Hallett appointed to take over.

2020 – Hallett concludes there is ‘no reliable evidence’ of wrongdoing. Iraqi claims that Maj Campbell pushed Shabram into the water were based on lies, collusion and a ‘possible conspiracy’ to pervert the course of justice.

 

In her report published yesterday, Baroness Hallett decided there was ‘no reliable evidence upon which it would be proper to conclude that (Maj Campbell) or any other British solider pushed or forced (Munem) Auda and Shabram into the water’.

She added: ‘It is most likely that they jumped or fell into the water in the process of trying to escape what they believed would be dire punishment for looting.’

The report by the Iraq Fatalities Investigations (IFI) unit said Maj Campbell and a comrade leapt into the water to try and rescue Shabram but ‘he sank and did not surface’.

Royal Military Police knew that witnesses had lied in the aftermath of Shabram’s death but they failed to shield the soldiers from a 17-year inquiry.

Baroness Hallett rubbished claims that the Iraqi men were victims of an informal punishment known as ‘wetting,’ in which British soldiers were alleged to have put looters in the water as a form of degrading punishment.

‘If there was a practice of wetting looters amongst some members of (the Black Watch Battle Group), there is no evidence that it was widespread or that (Maj Campbell) or any of the soldiers under his command had been involved in it or knew of it,’ the report said.  

‘There was good reason for (Maj Campbell) to take the two men to the water. British soldiers had gone to the scene to wash their vehicles and they were near the water’s edge. 

‘(Maj Campbell) wanted to get Auda and Shabram to the water where his men were and where he believed he may secure the services of an interpreter, who was fishing.

‘There is not therefore anything suspicious in his moving Auda and Shabram towards the water and nothing to link an alleged practice of wetting to this case.’

Baroness Hallett also rejected claims of a cover-up, adding: ‘No evidence of a cover up on the part of the British soldiers has ever been found.’

Maj Campbell yesterday said he is ‘relieved’ that he has ‘finally been exonerated’ after the 17-year witch-hunt ‘pushed him to the brink’ and ‘nearly did for him’, according to his friends.

But he added that he is angry that it took ‘eight investigations, 17 years and destroyed my career’, and furiously denounced the Army and MoD for ‘abandoning’ him.   

General Lord Richard Dannatt, the former Head of the British Army, said that Maj Campbell’s life and career ‘had been ruined’ by relentless investigations. 

‘It should never have taken 17 years to get to this point,’ Gen Dannatt told The Daily Telegraph. ‘I have always believed that the story that he told me was true: A young Iraqi fell into the canal and he and two men did their best to rescue him. 

‘I can’t believe why a Royal Engineer officer and two NCOs would be so stupid as to push an Iraqi into a canal and watch him drown. It has ruined Rob’s life and it has ruined the NCOs lives as well.’  

In her report published yesterday, Baroness Hallett said the  allegations against Maj Campbell were based on lies, collusion and a ‘possible conspiracy’ to pervert the course of justice

The judge added there was ‘no reliable evidence upon which it would be proper to conclude that (Maj Campbell) or any other British solider pushed or forced (Munem) Auda and Shabram into the water’. She wrote: ‘It is most likely that they jumped or fell into the water in the process of trying to escape what they believed would be dire punishment for looting’

Iraq Historic Allegations Team

The Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) was set up by the Government in March 2010 to investigate allegations of abuse and torture by British soldiers in Iraq. The inquiry was established in November 2010 after 146 Iraqi men said they had been tortured.

The unit is led by retired senior civilian police detective, Mark Warwick, and is made up of Royal Navy Police officers and ex-civilian police detectives and will soon be up to its full complement of 145 staff.

In January 2013 G4S subsidiary G4S Policing Solutions lost its contract to provide 40 former police officers for the inquiry, and was replaced by Police Skills, a subsidiary of Red Snapper Group, who will provide 100 former detectives.

In a judicial review the Court of Appeal ruled in November 2011 that the involvement of the General Police Duties branch of the Royal Military Police (RMP) ‘substantially compromised’ the inquiry because members of the unit had participated in detentions in Iraq.

The armed forces minister, Nick Harvey, responded by announcing in March 2012 that the RMP staff would be reassigned and replaced by Royal Navy Police personnel by 1 April 2012.

Lawyers representing people alleging that they have been tortured applied for another judicial review in May 2012 to examine the claim that the Royal Navy Police are not sufficiently independent since they also took part in interrogations, and that abuses were so systemic and widespread that only a public inquiry will satisfy the UK’s human rights obligations.

The case started on January 29, 2013 and a judgement was handed down by Mr Justice Silber on May 24, 2013.

In this judgement it was stated that IHAT has now been structured in such a way that it can independently carry out its investigative and prosecutorial functions. It also ruled that the decision of the Secretary of State to refuse to order an overarching public enquiry could not be called into question and said more should be done to address wider systemic issues.

In 2016 Martin Jerrold, managing director of the Red Snapper Group was called as a witness to an oral evidence session by a parliament select committee. A subsequent Daily Telegraph article highlighted the profits made by the company which has contracts worth £4.8million a year and its apparent ineffectiveness in that over its six years of existence it has yet to produce a single successful prosecution. Its 127 staff can be paid through limited companies potentially reducing tax.

In 2017, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced that the investigations would be shut down within months after MPs called it an ‘unmitigated failure.’

According to the Defence Committee report, IHAT had taken up over 3,500 allegations of abuse despite most not having any credible evidence. The report found failings in the conduct of investigations and concluded that those being investigated had suffered unacceptable stress, had their lives put on hold and careers damaged.

The decorated Army Major, who suffers from PTSD and depression, has now alleged that there was a concerted Government plot to put him on trial for war crimes in Iraq.

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, Maj Campbell claims that the Government blocked his promotion, tampered with his records and effectively ‘erased’ him from the regiment. 

He revealed that he only discovered he was under investigation when an ex-girlfriend telephoned him to tell him police had been to see her and ask her about the incident 11 years before.

‘I am incensed that so much time, resources and effort was put in by the Ministry of Defence to find something that wasn’t there and cast me as a bad character to fit a narrative of ‘something must be done’,’ he told the newspaper.

‘If it were not for Johnny Mercer, I would be dead today. He filled the Army-shaped void that was absent for 17 years in holding the MoD to account for this. The Army just did not care about us,’ he added. 

MailOnline has contacted the MoD to respond to Maj Campbell’s allegations. 

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said in a statement: ‘My thanks go to Baroness Hallett for compiling this report, which concludes there is not enough reliable evidence of any British soldier contributing to the tragic death of Saeed Shabram. 

‘I truly hope these findings will bring some closure and reassurance to the family and veterans involved in this process.

‘Nobody wants to see service personnel or veterans facing extensive reinvestigations into the same incident, and our Overseas Operations Bill will help provide greater certainty and protections in the future.’

The Government says a new law will protect the Armed Forces from ‘vexatious prosecutions’ but critics argue it could decriminalise torture.

The Iraq Fatality Investigations (IFI) team was set up after the High Court ruled that investigations conducted by the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (IHAT) should be followed up in the form of an inquest.

IHAT had been looking into allegations made against Iraq war veterans but was shut down after Phil Shiner, involved in many of the abuse allegation cases, was struck off for misconduct. 

In an interview in 2018, Maj Campbell described the impact the inquiries – including an investigation for possible manslaughter – had had on him.

He said: ‘I fully accounted for myself in my statement in 2004 and it had been examined and pored over and dissected by prosecutors and police forces and investigations and I don’t feel I need to justify myself any further.

‘What I want more than anything is a good night’s sleep and I haven’t had one for 15 years.’

Mr Mercer had previously has previously condemned the MoD for being far too quick to believe false claims.

The minister said he hoped the report would bring ‘closure and reassurance to the family and veterans involved in this process’, adding that the Overseas Operations Bill would protect soldiers from legal witch-hunts in the future. 

‘The MoD has been far too complicit and willing to believe the Shiner types and I am challenging that,’ he told The Sun. 

‘I hold top brass responsible for waving this process through over the years. 

‘Nobody wants to see service personnel or veterans facing extensive reinvestigations into the same incident, and our Overseas Operations Bill will help provide greater certainty and protections in the future.’  

It comes after Defence Secretary Ben Wallace triggered a row last night by suggesting British troops had taken part in ‘illegal wars’.  

Mr Wallace appeared to question the legality of the Iraq invasion while standing at the Commons despatch box.

In a heated exchange with his Labour counterpart, Mr Wallace said: ‘What we should recognise is much of the mess we are having to come and clean up today is because of your [Labour’s] illegal wars, your events in the past.’

Labour defence spokesman John Healey replied: ‘That is not worthy of the office of the Secretary of State for Defence.

‘This is too important for party politics. It should be beneath the Secretary of State to reduce this to party politics.’

The row came as MPs debated legislation the Government has said will mean service personnel will be protected from ‘vexatious claims and endless investigations’.

The Bill seeks to limit false and historical allegations arising from overseas operations by introducing a statutory presumption against prosecution, making it exceptional for personnel to be prosecuted five years or more after an incident.  

To override the presumption, the consent of the attorney general will be required.

The prosecutor must weigh up the ‘adverse impact of overseas operations on service personnel’ and, where there has been no compelling new evidence, the public interest in cases coming to a ‘timely conclusion’.

But campaigners and some senior military figures have warned that the legislation will create a presumption against prosecution of torture and other serious crimes, except rape and sexual violence. 

Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer said in a statement: ‘My thanks go to Baroness Hallett for compiling this report, which concludes there is not enough reliable evidence of any British soldier contributing to the tragic death of Saeed Shabram’

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace triggered a row last night after he appeared to question the legality of the Iraq invasion while standing at the Commons despatch box

General Sir Nick Parker, former commander of land forces, last week said he was worried the focus on prosecutions ‘risks us being seen as setting double standards’.

Mr Wallace, a former soldier who served in Northern Ireland, rejected claims the Bill could decriminalise torture and murder.

He said: ‘We’ve been told that this Bill is controversial. Some have gone as far to have said it decriminalises torture or prevents veterans from receiving compensation. Both allegations are untrue.

‘It is our intention should new or compelling evidence be brought forward to prosecute for those offences. It is not decriminalising torture, it is not decriminalising murder.’

Mr Wallace added: ‘We want the ability if necessary to allow soldiers to focus on the danger and job in hand in operations, not on whether they will have a lawsuit slapped on them when they get home.’

Afghanistan and Iraq were the major military campaigns in which Tony Blair sent British troops into combat. The latter proved particularly controversial.

In 2010, Nick Clegg was forced to clarify the Government’s position on the Iraq war after he denounced the invasion as ‘illegal’.

The then deputy prime minister made the remarks while standing in for David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Questions.

Mr Clegg later stressed his opinion was a ‘long-held’ personal one and Downing Street said he was not speaking for the Government.

The Tories backed the then Labour Government’s decision to commit troops to Iraq in 2003, with current key figures including Boris Johnson all supporting the war.

Source: Read Full Article