Claims British soldiers mutilated Iraqis' bodies were just rumours, says colonel

Col Richard Griffiths tells al-Sweady inquiry order to take bodies back to base was unusual but must have been for good reason

Claims that British soldiers mutilated the bodies of Iraqis killed in battle were “baseless rumours” and part of efforts to discredit coalition forces, an army colonel has told a public inquiry.

Col Richard Griffiths said he had not seen any evidence to suggest that bodies taken back to a British camp after the battle of Danny Boy were mistreated.

Griffiths was the officer commanding B Company, 1st Battalion the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, in May 2004, leading a “rover group” that was ambushed by Iraqi insurgents. The ambush was the start of a three-hour pitched battle on 14 May that has since become known as the battle of Danny Boy after a nearby vehicle checkpoint.

Griffiths was the first military witness to give evidence to the al-Sweady inquiry, which is examining claims that British troops mistreated and killed detainees after the battle. The inquiry, which was ordered in 2009, is looking into claims that 20 or more Iraqis were unlawfully killed at Camp Abu Naji (CAN) near Majar-al-Kabir on 14 and 15 May 2004, and that detainees were abused there and at Shaibah logistics base, where they were moved to.

The Ministry of Defence denies the claims, saying those who died were killed on the battlefield, and that bodies handed back were those that had been removed from the battlefield and taken back to CAN.

Griffiths admitted the order to take bodies back to the base was “highly unusual” but must have been for a good reason – it has previously been suggested the order was given because it was thought the insurgents included someone responsible for the murder of six Red Caps in Iraq the previous year.

But Griffiths said he did not, and had never, believed rumours that troops had mutilated bodies before they were handed back to relatives. In a statement to the inquiry, he said: “I did not believe any of our soldiers had mutilated a body and I did not see at the time, and have not seen since, any evidence to support this proposition.

“I thought then, and I still think now, that the rumours were baseless and caused by a combination of ignorance amongst the local population as to the traumatic injuries that can be suffered in combat and the misinformation spread by insurgents who wished to discredit the coalition forces.”

Griffiths said he had seen nothing to suggest mistreatment of detainees at CAN, nor mistreatment on the battlefield, and asked if he had seen any “executions”, replied: “Categorically no.”

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