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Over a Thousand War Crimes Claims Against British Soldiers to be Dismissed

© AP Photo / Giles Penfound, Army hoBritish soldiers of the Black Watch supported, by a detachment of Royal Marines and mortars, advance into an area of Operations east of the River Euphrates in Iraq, Sunday Nov. 7, 2004
British soldiers of the Black Watch supported, by a detachment of Royal Marines and mortars, advance into an area of Operations east of the River Euphrates in Iraq, Sunday Nov. 7, 2004 - Sputnik International
Boris Johnson vowed to protect former servicemen from “vexatious claims” when he entered Downing Street in June 2019, then on Armistice Day in November, he further pledged to amend the Human Rights Act to safeguard veterans from legal actions.

Over 1,000 war crime accusations levelled against British soldiers in Iraq have been dismissed, with just one case still being considered.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Law in Action programme, Service Prosecution Authority director Andrew Cayley said it was “quite possible” there will ultimately be zero prosecutions.

Cayley also said he was confident no action would be taken in a separate International Criminal Court probe into alleged abuses by British soldiers, and ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda will close the preliminary examination this year in respect of Iraq and the UK.

Many of the 1,000 cases were brought by disgraced former lawyer Phil Shiner, through his firm Public Interest Lawyers, which passed on approximately 65 percent of the 3,392 allegations received by the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. His seemingly crusading efforts led to him being named human rights lawyer of the year in 2004 by human rights organisations Liberty and JUSTICE, for “his tremendous skill, tenacity and dedication to fighting for justice” - he went on to win the Law Society's solicitor of the year award in 2007.

His legal actions were central to the claim UK soldiers had captured, tortured and murdered innocent Iraqi civilians after the Battle of Danny Boy near Amara in 2004 - however, in 2014, a report by the Al-Sweady Inquiry ruled the dead had been members of the Mahdi army militia, ambushed a British patrol and were killed in exchanges of gunfire. Shiner subsequently admitted paying an Iraqi ‘middleman’ to find claimants, in breach of professional standards.

​Shiner was subsequently charged by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal on a number of counts of professional misconduct, but failed to attend its two-day hearing, on the basis he was unwell and couldn’t afford to pay for a defence lawyer. He nonetheless admitted eight allegations of acting without integrity, including that he made “unsolicited direct approaches” to potential clients, and also admitted another allegation of acting recklessly.

In this May 6 , 2006 file photo, a British trooper falls after apparently being hit by a rock, as British troops move towards a helicopter crash site in Basra, Iraq's second-largest city, 550 kilometers (340 miles) southeast of Baghdad. Britain’s prime minister announced plans on Oct. 4, 2016 to protect British troops from dubious legal claims made during conflicts. - Sputnik International
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Andrew Tabachnik, prosecuting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority, said Shiner’s defence was effectively, "I was not in full control of my mental faculties at this time and I didn’t know right from wrong and what I am doing.”

The tribunal found him guilty of multiple professional misconduct charges, including dishonesty and lack of integrity. In all, 22 misconduct charges were proved to a criminal standard beyond reasonable doubt - including ‘cold-calling’ to find potential complainants and making payments to witnesses to alter evidence - while two other charges were left to lie on file. Shiner was subsequently struck off the Roll of Solicitors and also ordered to pay for the full costs of the prosecution, starting with an interim down-payment of £250,000.

“His misconduct has caused real distress to soldiers, their families and to the families of Iraqi people who thought that their loved ones had been murdered or tortured. More than £30 million of public funds were spent on investigating what proved to be false and dishonest allegations,” chief executive of the Solicitors Regulation Authority, Paul Philip, said in response.

Shiner declared himself bankrupt March 2017, owing almost £7 million to the state. In February 2018, the Insolvency Service found Shiner had sold his own house to his family and put it into a trust that allowed him to continue living there, and had also sold two commercial properties for £550,000 each and transferred two £3,500 guitars to family trust. The Service eventually managed to recover nearly £500,000 from Shiner.   

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