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UK soldiers hit by war crimes claims unlikely to face criminal trials

ONE THOUSAND ‘vexatious’ war crimes claims against British soldiers who fought in Iraq are dismissed by investigators due to lack of evidence

  • Only one case is still being considered despite 1,000 claims from lawyers
  • SPA chief Andrew Cayley says it is ‘quite possible’ there will be no prosecutions
  • Former lawyer Phil Shiner launched claims following invasion of Iraq in 2003

More than 1,000 war crime accusations tabled against British soldiers in Iraq have been dismissed – with only one case remaining to be resolved, it emerged today.  

Former lawyer Phil Shiner and his firm Public Interest Lawyers made more than 1,000 claims involving the British military following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But independent investigators have since dismissed almost all of those allegations due to the ‘low level’ of offending and a lack of credible evidence.

British soldiers are pictured in Basra, Iraq, in December 2004. More than 1,000 war crime accusations tabled against British soldiers in Iraq have been dismissed

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action programme, Service Prosecution Authority director Andrew Cayley said although one case was still being considered, it was ‘quite possible’ the accusations will ultimately result in zero prosecutions.

Mr Shiner was struck off as a solicitor in 2007 after being found guilty of misconduct and dishonesty relating to false abuse claims against British troops.

Mr Cayley also told the programme he was confident no action would be taken in a separate International Criminal Court probe into alleged abuses by British soldiers.

‘My sense is these matters are coming to a conclusion; (ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda) will close the preliminary examination this year in respect of Iraq and the United Kingdom,’ he said.

Former lawyer Phil Shiner (file picture) and his firm Public Interest Lawyers made more than 1,000 claims involving the British military following the invasion of Iraq in 2003

Former lawyer Phil Shiner (file picture) and his firm Public Interest Lawyers made more than 1,000 claims involving the British military following the invasion of Iraq in 2003

The fall of British ‘tank chaser’ Phil Shiner 

He once boasted that he had not ‘accepted a single case that turned out to be a try-on’.

But in a spectacular fall from grace, human rights lawyer Phil Shiner, 61, was struck off the roll of solicitors for a string of misconduct charges.

The father of five set up his Birmingham firm Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) in 1999 and led it until it was closed down in August 2016.

In 2007, at the height of his career, he was named the Law Society’s solicitor of the year.

He continued to make his name by suing the Government at the taxpayer’s expense. His firm handed over hundreds of allegations of criminality by British troops in Iraq, many of which have been thrown out.

The beginnings of his downfall were marked by a news conference in February 2008 that paved the way for the £25million Al-Sweady inquiry. Mr Shiner alleged that the Army had unlawfully killed, tortured and mistreated innocent Iraqi civilians during a clash known as the ‘Battle of Danny Boy’ in 2004.

But in December 2014 the judge leading the public inquiry concluded the allegations were ‘wholly and entirely without merit’.

The Ministry of Defence then passed a damning dossier on PIL to the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (SRA), which started an investigation.

In April 2016 the SRA concluded its inquiry and Mr Shiner was referred to a disciplinary tribunal over ‘serious allegations of professional misconduct’.

In August that year, his legal aid was pulled by the Government, forcing him to shut down his firm. In February 2017 he was struck off after being found guilty of professional misconduct.

Mr Shiner, owner of the now defunct Public Interest Lawyers, once attempted to dodge a £7million bill by gifting his house, two guitars, artwork and a pile of cash.

But the Government’s Insolvency Service managed to recover nearly £500,000 and sold the former solicitor’s home.  

He ‘undertook bogus damage claims’ against the Ministry of Defence and former soldiers that alleged ‘fictitious murder and torture incidents’.

He was struck off as a solicitor in 2017 after a disciplinary tribunal that he failed to attend and has been left with a huge bill owed to the taxpayer, the solicitors’ watchdog and others.

Mr Shiner, 64, once named solicitor of the year, was found guilty of professional misconduct three years ago for his role in drumming up cases against troops.

The human rights lawyer, who made his name suing the Government at the taxpayer’s expense, was found to have been repeatedly dishonest in falsely accusing soldiers of war crimes.

Mr Shiner’s firm took on clients for a public inquiry into alleged abuses, but then cut a ‘lucrative’ deal with Leigh Day, which pursued compensation claims, a court heard in 2017.

Leigh Day then carved up the profits from suing British troops between PIL and a middleman.

Mr Shiner’s firm brought the vast majority of 3,380 allegations of wrongdoing by British troops to the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT). 

It received millions of pounds of public money but failed to secure a single conviction – yet caused misery to hundreds of veterans.

The lawyer had 12 charges of misconduct found proved against him by the Solicitors’ Disciplinary Tribunal, including ‘cold-calling’ to find potential complainants in Iraq and making payments to alter evidence.

Mr Shiner’s firm made more than £1.6million pursuing unfounded torture and murder claims that cost the public purse £31million to investigate. 

Boris Johnson vowed to protect former servicemen from ‘vexatious claims’ when he entered Number 10 in July.

On Armistice Day last November, in the grips of a hotly-contested election campaign, the Prime Minister pledged to amend the Human Rights Act to safeguard veterans from hounding.

British soldiers were ‘betrayed’ by vexatious claims  

Former troops have previously said their reputations had been tarnished and their relatives had suffered years of anguish due to the allegations.

Ex-corporal Brian Wood won a Military Cross for his bravery during the bloody firefight.

In 2014, he said: ‘We have been dragged through five years of hell. That in my view is a betrayal of our service. We did what we had to do as soldiers and we did the right thing.’ 

The 34-year-old, of the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment, was conducting a vehicle checkpoint in 2004 when he heard a soldier had been hit by a grenade and another shot in the arm and rushed to their aid. 

But on the way there in armoured Warrior vehicles, his unit was ambushed by insurgents from three positions. The troops had to charge across open ground and they fought for five hours in one of the most intense battles since the Falklands.

In the firefight, 28 insurgents were killed and nine militants were taken to the Camp Abu Naji military base where they were questioned. But their heroic efforts were tarnished when the detainees claimed they were subjected to torture and witnessed executions and mutilation.

Scott Hoolin, now 37, heroically fought off the enemy – only to have his name dragged through the mud.

In 2014, his mother Ann Hoolin, 50, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, told the Daily Mail: ‘I think the inquiry disturbed him and this coming back again now has just upset and disturbed him again.

‘To be accused of wrongdoing in the aftermath of what happened is disgraceful.’

She said her son was just 21 when he engaged in a ferocious firefight named The Battle of Danny Boy in 2004. The convoy he was travelling with came under fire from militants armed with grenades and AK-47s.

‘It was a worrying time for the family as he was so young and fighting over there,’ she said. ‘Now this has opened it all up again for both Scott and the family.

‘As a family we are angry about that and we are angry because when he went to give evidence to the inquiry he told us when he returned home that the whole thing was a waste of time.’ 


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