Move comes after court ruled that involvement of Royal Military Police threatened to compromise inquiry's independence
Royal Military police are to be removed from an investigation into allegations of widespread abuse of prisoners held by the British army in Iraq, after the courts ruled that their involvement threatened to compromise its independence.
In an attempt to avoid being compelled to order a public inquiry into the allegations, the armed forces minister, Nick Harvey, announced on Monday that the military police officers, who are serving army personnel, are to be replaced next month by personnel from the Royal Navy Police.
The investigation known as Iraq Historic Allegations Team, or IHAT - one of a number of separate investigations into allegations of UK involvement in torture and rendition over the last decade - will now be managed by the head of the navy police – the navy's provost marshal – Commander Craig Moran, who will decide whether there is sufficient evidence to refer a case to the director of service prosecutions or a commanding officer.
The navy police will have a limited role in IHAT, most of whose work will in future be carried out by civilians, according to the Ministry of Defence.
Around 80 investigators are currently involved with IHAT, around half of them former civilian detectives led by a former head of Staffordshire CID, Geoff White.
But the measures are unlikely to satisfy lawyers representing 169 men who allege they were tortured or suffered other mistreatment while imprisoned in Iraq between 2003 and 2008. They are expected to seek a judicial review of the lawfulness of the new arrangements, arguing that there should be a full public inquiry similar to that which examined the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel receptionist, in September 2003.
Many of the allegations centre on a secretive army intelligence corps interrogation centre known as the joint forward interrogation team (JFIT), where suspected insurgents or men thought to be loyal to Saddam Hussein's deposed regime were taken for questioning. The claimants' lawyers are objecting to the decision to replace Royal Military Police officers with Royal Navy personnel on the grounds that JFIT was at one point commanded by a Royal Navy officer.
Among the evidence that IHAT has been examining are more than 2,600 videos that JFIT interrogators made between 2005 and 2008, showing prisoners being questioned. Some of these videos have already resulted in a number of individuals being referred to service prosecutors with a recommendation that they consider bringing war crimes charges.
The Ministry of Defence has conceded that the former prisoners have an arguable claim that they were mistreated in a manner that puts the UK in breach of the European convention on human rights. In November last year the court of appeal ruled that an IHAT investigation that conducted in part by the Royal Military Police was insufficiently independent, could give rise to "the public perception of the possibility of bias", and failed to meet the UK's obligations under the convention.
Phil Shiner, lawyer for the former prisoners, said the MoD appeared to have responded to the appeal court's decision by doing "the barest minimum" to correct the perception of bias.
For more information, contact Phil Shiner on 0121 515 5069
Royal Military Police to be dropped from Iraq 'abuse' investigation