Lawyers did not interview pathologists before alleging that as many as 20 innocent Iraqis had been executed by the British Army in Iraq, a tribunal was told yesterday.
Martyn Day and his team at the London law firm Leigh Day organised a press briefing in February 2008 to allege that British troops had tortured and murdered a group of Iraqi civilians. The lawyers’ clients alleged that some of the victims had been mutilated, with one having his penis severed and another having his eye gouged out.
Prosecutors told the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in London yesterday that the Leigh Day lawyers acknowledged among themselves before the press briefing that they should interview the doctors in Iraq who supplied the death certificates after the battle. However, the legal team went ahead with the dramatic claims without having discussed the evidence with the doctors, according to Timothy Dutton, QC, of Fountain Court Chambers, acting for the Solicitors Regulation Authority.
Day acknowledged that interviewing the doctors was “a priority” and that his firm’s team was “determined to see them”. He said that the firm’s lawyers had hoped to meet the doctors on one of their research trips to Damascus, but the doctors had not arrived.
“Did you make any inquiries prior to holding the press conference as to why the doctors had not come to Damascus?” Mr Dutton asked in cross-examination. Day responded that he could not remember if he had “made any specific enquiries”. He went on to say that by that stage in the firm’s investigations interviewing the surviving detainees, the firm’s clients, was viewed as a more pressing matter.
The allegations against the troops were later found to be untrue and the lawyers’ clients were revealed to be members of an insurgent group called the Mahdi army. British military officials consistently maintained that the deaths had occurred in combat during the May 2004 “battle of Danny Boy”.
Day, his partner Sapna Malik and a junior lawyer at the firm, Anna Crowther, face 19 charges of misconduct over the firm’s handling of the Iraqi claims, which were the focus of the al-Sweady Inquiry which began in 2009. All three deny wrongdoing.