Accusations of war crimes will mostly be unfounded

Our troops need protecting from predatory lawyers

Article published in The Times, 4 January 2016. © Richard Kemp

Mark Warwick, head of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team, says he is dealing with 1,250 alleged offences by British troops — including murder, rape and torture — with sufficient evidence to justify criminal charges.

If all these allegations were true, it would represent either a deliberate criminal policy sanctioned at the top of the British armed forces, or an unprecedented breakdown of discipline and order and a failure of command never before seen.

But most are not genuine. They are the result of a campaign by left-wing British lawyers driven by greed and the intention to undermine our armed forces.

A public inquiry into allegations that British soldiers had murdered, tortured and mutilated Iraqi civilians after a fierce battle in 2003 found that all such claims were “wholly without foundation” and “entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility” by Iraqi witnesses.

The government has accused the law firm Public Interest Lawyers of making unsolicited approaches to potential victims in contravention of the solicitors’ code of conduct and resulting in hundreds of spurious claims. This has all been funded by British taxpayers through legal aid payments that encourage Iraqis and their ambulance-chasing lawyers.

These false accusations tarnish the reputation of the armed forces and encourage violence against British citizens by jihadists enraged at the alleged behaviour of our soldiers.

They also undermine combat effectiveness as troops must worry about ending up facing Mr Warwick’s criminal charges — which could cause dangerous hesitation at a critical moment. I know several of their comrades-in-arms who have had charges hanging over their heads for years, leading to attempted suicide, severe depression and marital breakdown. A few of the 1,250 allegations will be genuine, but they are unlikely to involve murder, torture or rape. They will be isolated cases, mostly due to the blood, noise, confusion and lethality of battle and the enemy’s unrestrained brutality.

Our soldiers willingly accept such dangers on the battlefield. But they do not sign up to be dragged through the courts when they get home. The government has a duty to defend them from the pernicious and cowardly attacks of opportunist and politically motivated lawyers.