The Ministry of Defence has been strongly criticised by a High Court judge for attempting to mislead a judicial review.
The review has been looking into the alleged murder of 20 Iraqis and the torture of nine others by UK troops in Iraq five years ago.
The case centres on the aftermath of a major firefight at a vehicle checkpoint known as “Danny Boy” on the Baghdad to Al-Amara road in Maysan province on May 14 2004.
The government stated that, following the incident, 20 dead Iraqis and nine prisoners were taken to Camp Abu Naji, a British military facility.
But relatives of some of those killed say they were alive when they entered the camp and were murdered by troops.
This has been corroborated by witnesses and post mortem results on the bodies returned from the base appeared to show evidence of torture including close range bullet wounds, mutilation and stab wounds.
The nine survivors were detained for several months and insist they were regularly abused and beaten.
Public Interest Lawyers, who represent the family of one of those killed and five men who allege they were tortured by British troops, argue that the government fundamentally failed to investigate the allegations.
The MoD had initially tried to withhold information in the case, claiming it would be damaging to the public interest.
The government had applied for a public interest immunity certificate but, at the High Court today, Lord Justice Scott Baker said that the certificate had been sought “on a partly false basis,” adding that this was of great concern to the court.
“To be furnished with a false, or partly false, certificate – as this one was – completely undermines the process and is a matter of very great concern,” he said.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth was forced to apologise and conceded that an independent inquiry was now necessary after admitting the MoD had failed to make documents available to the court in good time.
The Treasury Solicitor’s department head of litigation Hugh Giles said: “Failures have occurred during the disclosure process by which the (Defence Secretary) has made available documents to the court and the claimants. The Secretary of State profoundly regrets these failures.”
He added that “searches conducted to date cannot be said to have been effective and can no longer be regarded as reasonable and proportionate.”
The climb-down follows the release of damning documents to the court showing that those detained at the camp had complained to the Red Cross about their treatment at the time and that this information had been sent to ministers in London.
This is in direct contradiction to MoD claims that it had received no complaints of ill-treatment from any of those detained.
Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers said: “The UK government, aware of the allegations and of the clear signs of mistreatment of the nine survivors – which were the subject of representations by the International Committee of the Red Cross within a week – fundamentally failed to investigate the allegations.”
Mr Shiner also accused the MoD of failing to treat the case “with candour,” including preventing the handover of key documents.
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