British paratroops beat Iraqi civilian to death, court martial told
SEVEN British paratroops murdered an unarmed civilian in a “brutal and unprovoked” attack eleven days after the war in Iraq had been declared over, a court martial was told yesterday.
The soldiers, members of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, used their fists, boots, helmets and rifle butts to attack civilians who included two women, one of them pregnant, the court was told.
Martin Heslop, QC, for the prosecution, said: “This was, I am afraid to say, nothing more than gratuitous violence meted out on a number of innocent and unarmed civilians.”
Corporal Scott Evans, 32, Privates Billy Nerney, 24, Samuel May, 25, and Morne Vosloo, 26, and former Privates Daniel Harding, 25, Robert Di-Gregorio, 24, and Scott Jackson, 26, all pleaded not guilty to murder and violent disorder when they appeared at the court martial hearing at Colchester barracks.
It is the first military hearing involving charges of murder against British soldiers since the start of Britain’s campaign in Iraq. The incident central to the court martial took place in the village of al-Ferkah, near the Iranian border north of Basra in southern Iraq, on May 11, 2003.
Mr Heslop said: “This is not a case of soldiers responding under attack nor being required to defend themselves in an operational engagement.”
He said the Crown’s case was that these assaults were “unjustified and wholly unprovoked”.
Scientific evidence to be shown to the panel of seven military personnel who act as the jury in the court martial would demonstrate that the blood of the deceased, Nadhem Abdullah, 18, was found on the butt of Private May’s SA80 rifle.
The women were said to have intervened. Mr Heslop said that the pregnant woman was hit by one of the soldiers, and the second woman, who had given birth three days earlier, was struck in the mouth. A dog that barked at the soldiers was shot dead. “It was the only time a shot was fired,” he said.
The confrontation occurred after a section of 8 Platoon C Company 3 Para, led by Corporal Evans, chased a white vehicle which it believed was involved in smuggling.
The vehicle took off at great speed, but when Corporal Evans and the six other soldiers arrived in the village they spotted a similar-looking vehicle, a white Toyota being used as a taxi, and blocked it in.
Two of the passengers, brothers Kazem and Zugraher al- Mohamadawi, got out and walked away. Athar Fennjan Saddam, the driver, and Nadhem Abdullah, in the front seat, were ordered out and told to lie down. “They were assaulted by the soldiers using their fists, feet, helmets and rifles. The [Iraqi] men did little more than lie there suffering the blows. Nadhem Abdullah was struck about the body and head with rifles. The driver was beaten about the body and both were rendered unconscious at some time or other,” Mr Heslop said.
The soldiers were shouting at the Iraqis, calling them “Ali Babas”, the favourite term used by the military for suspected thieves.They got back into their vehicles and pursued the two brothers, Mr Heslop said, and then beat them too.
The prosecution case will partly rest on statements of Iraqi witnesses who are to give evidence. Mr Heslop admitted that the evidence would be “inconsistent and contradictory”.
This was because the witnesses were unable to read or count, although one was a major in the Iraqi police force.
None of the witnesses would be able positively to identify any soldier individually. However, Mr Heslop said, they would be able to confirm that their village had been visited by British soldiers and there were no other patrols in the vicinity at that time.
“A picture emerges from these witnesses of what happened at the village that afternoon, which the Crown says supports these charges against these defendants,” he said.
Abdullah was taken to a doctor who judged that his head injuries were so severe he needed hospital treatment, but there was no neurosurgeon. It was not until the next morning that the family was able to obtain a vehicle to drive him to Basra but he died en route.
No post-mortem examination was possible because he was buried the next day.
Efforts by the authorities to exhume the body failed. However, the blood found in a “screw recess in the butt of Private May’s rifle” matched the DNA profile of a member of his family, and the odds were four million to one against this match being unsound. There were also boot-print marks on the Toyota driver’s clothing which were similar to all but one of the soldiers’ boots.
When the seven soldiers returned to their base, they were questioned by Lieutenant (now Captain) Andrew Blackmore, 8 Platoon commander, because they all seemed “excited and hyped up”.
But, even though Corporal Evans had twice radioed HQ about a vehicle avoiding a checkpoint, they denied that anything out of the ordinary had happened.
In subsequent interviews, when news of the death came to light, most of the paratroops denied any knowledge of a violent incident. Privates Vosloo and Di-Gregorio admitted that there had been an incident but denied involvement.
The hearing was adjourned until Monday.
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