Colonel says torture claims were harrowing for soldiers

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May 03, 2017
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Colonel James Cootes, who was appointed OBE for services in Afghanistan, said the public announcement of claims against his troops in Iraq had been inapporpriate

Dominic Lipinski/PA

A British Army officer has said that claims that soldiers murdered and tortured detainees were “harrowing” and added to their post-Iraq War stress.

Colonel James Coote, of the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment, said that the allegations had put pressure on the men who were under his command during the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004. “What I can say is that in 13 years, individual soldiers have been put through a very harrowing process that added stress, added strain to their lives,” he told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in London.

Colonel Coote, 45, who was a major in command of C Company of the regiment’s First Battalion at the time, said that he had suffered sleep disorders and that he felt the way the claims were made public at a lawyer-organised press conference in 2008 and in a BBC Panorama documentary had been “inappropriate”.

The colonel, who appeared before the tribunal wearing his army uniform, said that he was angry at the public announcement. He said: “The impact of the lawyers’ actions, I would characterise that in two ways. Physically, it meant that the investigations into the events of 2004 ran for several more years. Secondly … I felt … dismayed and a sense of anger that these allegations were brought in the way that they were, which I felt was inappropriate.

“There was certainly a sense of sensationalism. I remember the Panorama documentary and the news reporting of the press statement given by the solicitors and I remember thinking this was an inappropriate way for these allegations to be brought.”

Troops from the battalion, known as the Tigers, were deployed after Mahdi Army insurgents ambushed their fellow units from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. More than 20 Iraqis were killed in an intense battle and nine others were later detained and taken to the nearby Camp Abu Naji. The London law firm Leigh Day pursued damages claims against the Ministry of Defence over the alleged mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives at the British-run camp following the Battle of Danny Boy. The al-Sweady Inquiry later dismissed the claims as “false”.

Colonel Coote was giving evidence on the sixth day of the hearing, which is expected to last seven weeks. The Solicitors Regulation Authority alleges that Leigh Day and its partners Martyn Day and Sapna Malik continued to act for the claimants when they had evidence it was “improper”. The two solicitors face 16 misconduct charges, while their fellow solicitor Anna Crowther faces four, including an allegation of destroying a key document. The firm is charged with 11 counts. All deny any wrongdoing.

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