Robert Booth, The Guardian
The father of a 13-year-old Iraqi boy who has been missing since 2003 after being treated in a British military hospital has begun legal action against the Ministry of Defence demanding compensation and a public inquiry.
Memmon Salam al-Maliki was found by British troops with his left hand blown off, several fingers of his right hand missing and his left eye seriously injured after he picked up unexploded munitions.
He had been playing outside his family home in al Hartha, a district of Basra. The boy was taken to a nearby British base, and then to the British military field hospital at Shaibah, west of Basra. His father never saw him again. The army said he had been moved to a US hospital in Kuwait, but the Americans have said that without documentation it is impossible to know if that was the case.
The boy's father, Salman Khadim Badan al-Maliki, a 50-year-old labourer, has applied for a judicial review at the high court in London, calling on the defence secretary, Liam Fox, to hold an inquiry into the disappearance and the government's alleged failure to investigate properly.
"This distraught father, who sought news of his injured son, was treated with contempt and told he was a nuisance," said Phil Shiner, Maliki's lawyer. "The MoD again display an astonishing disregard for the humanity of the Iraqi civilian population and it is no wonder the battle for hearts and minds was a failure."
The MoD has said it has since "introduced a much better system of medical record management to try to ensure nothing like this could ever happen again".
Maliki's lawyers claim the government failed in its obligation under a string of internationally binding treaties. They say Britain failed to protect Memmon's right to life under the European convention on human rights and subjected the father to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" under the same treaty by not giving him information.
The father also claims UK authorities have failed under their obligations of the fourth Geneva convention of 1949, which requires states to help members of families dispersed by war to find loved ones.
After Memmon was taken to the field hospital, Al-Maliki visited every day for the next 10 and was told his son was getting better but was not permitted to see him. On the tenth day he was told to stop as his visits were becoming "annoying", legal papers claim.
He went to the joint operations headquarters where officers sent him away with no concrete answers. Visits to the British headquarters at the Shatt-al-Arab Hotel, where an officer promised to help, yielded no more information and Al-Maliki felt he was being lied to.
A month after the accident, the army confirmed that Memmon was treated at the field hospital and remarked on his significant loss of blood. More than a year later, in August 2004, the army wrote to tell Maliki that he had been moved to Kuwait and British forces had lost track of him.
In October 2005, two-and-a-half years after Maliki last saw his son, the army's chief claims officer said he could not offer any compensation for negligence "since I have been unable to find any such evidence of negligence by the British forces in this matter". The letter ends: "Please accept my sincere sympathy".
Last August, the defence secretary conceded this was "a deeply upsetting case" and announced an immediate review. "I have asked MoD officials to conduct a thorough search of all available documentation to see whether they can shed any new light on this case as a matter of urgency," Fox said in a statement.
The MoD said that despite extensive examination of its records, and having made inquiries with coalition partners and international humanitarian organisations, it has found no trace of Memmon after he entered the field hospital.
"We believe he spent a short period of time in our care and was then transferred to another medical facility," it said in a statement. "At the time, our medical staff were working round the clock to care for patients – both injured personnel and local civilians – in a conflict where the situation on the ground was very challenging."
The ministry said it will carefully consider the call for an inquiry and compensation.