The Iraq Historic Allegations TeamAbuse allegations against British troops in Iraq were initially investigated on a case-by-case basis by the special investigation branch of the Royal Military Police.
But in March 2010, following long-running demands from human rights lawyers for a public inquiry, the Labour government announced it would create the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT).
The new unit was seen as a “halfway house” which would show the government was committed to investigating allegations, while avoiding the massive costs of a full-blown public inquiry.
Bill Rammell, Labour’s Armed Forces minister, said at the time that any public inquiry would be unable to impose punishments if any criminal behaviour was uncovered. He added that the IHAT would operate “transparently, fully, and in a reasonable timescale”.
Following the last general election, Nick Harvey, the Coalition’s new minister, backed the establishment of the IHAT, and it began work in November 2010.
A team of civilian investigators – former police officers – was set up to work under the Royal Military Police. But soon after it began its inquiries the IHAT’s integrity was brought into question by a legal challenge.
Human rights lawyers told the Court of Appeal the IHAT was open to allegations of bias because the Royal Military Police had been involved in some of the detentions that were under investigation.
After Lord Justice Kay ruled that “the practical independence of the IHAT is, at least as a matter or reasonable perception, substantially compromised”, the MoD reconfigured its structure so that it is now overseen by the Royal Navy Police.
The team works at an MoD base at Upavon, Wilts, but it may soon move away from a military base — further adding to costs — in an effort to improve its independence.
Although it was described by Mr Harvey two years ago as being at “full investigative capacity”, the IHAT is now set to double in size. Documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph show the MoD is budgeting to spend up to £5 million a year to expand the unit from 40 to 100 civilian investigators.
The IHAT has been ordered to set up an additional team to rake over the Baha Mousa public inquiry to see if further charges can be brought.
It is also establishing another team to look into incidents in Iraq that were not part of its original scope, after a Strasbourg ruling last year which said the European Convention on Human Rights applied to British forces.
New staff must be former CID detectives with “demonstrable and proven previous experience” who pass a range of security checks.
G4S Policing Solutions, a subsidiary of the beleaguered private security firm, already provides nearly half the investigation team’s existing 80 staff.
The unit is currently led by Geoff White, a former head of Staffordshire Police CID. Earlier this month the MoD advertised for a new head of the IHAT to replace Mr White on his retirement. Candidates can expect a salary of up to £69,409 a year.
The al-Sweady inquiry
Insurgents attacked a British checkpoint
The al-Sweady inquiry is examining the events surrounding an attack against British forces in southern Iraq on May 14 2004.
An estimated 100 gunmen ambushed a patrol from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment at an Army checkpoint known by the code name “Danny Boy”.
The ensuing battle, during which British troops took part in the first bayonet charge since the Falklands conflict, lasted four hours.
By the end of the “Battle of Danny Boy”, around 28 insurgents had been killed, while nine gunmen were taken prisoner.
It has been alleged that the dead were mutilated by British soldiers, some of the detainees were tortured and up to six were murdered, including Hamid al-Sweady, a 19 year-old.
The Ministry of Defence insists the bodies were “treated with respect” and the nine captured Iraqi gunmen were questioned and handed over to the Iraqi authorities for prosecution. Six were later jailed. But Iraqis have given a dramatically different version of events, and claimed some of the dead were alive when they were taken from the battlefield.
The al-Sweady inquiry was announced by Bob Ainsworth, the former Labour defence secretary, in November 2009.
It began proceedings in January 2012 and is expected to last three years. It will receive evidence from up to 1,000 witnesses.
The Baha Mousa inquiry
Baha Mousa’s death has become the most notorious stain on Britain’s record in Iraq.
He was a hotel receptionist when he was arrested by members of the 1st Bn The Queen’s Lancashire Regiment along with six other civilians in Basra in September 2003.
All the detainees were taken to a British base where they were hooded, beaten and assaulted.
Two days after being arrested, Mr Mousa, 26, was found dead. A post mortem examination found that he had suffered at least 93 separate injuries.
Cpl Donald Payne became the first member of the British Army to be convicted of a war crime when he pleaded guilty to inhumane treatment. A subsequent court martial saw six other soldiers cleared.
Three years later and after a cost of £24.8 million, the public inquiry into the case concluded that British soldiers had subjected detainees to “serious, gratuitous violence”. But its 1,366-page report also found that there was no evidence of an “entrenched culture of violence” within the regiment or the Army as had been claimed by lawyers representing the Iraqi victims.
It named a total of 19 personnel as having been involved in misconduct, including a major and a lieutenant.
Three soldiers were suspended in the aftermath of the inquiry findings and all 19 are currently under investigation by the IHAT.
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