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Last Updated: Friday, 4 November 2005, 01:28 GMT
MoD stands by Iraq murder trial
Military courtroom in Colchester
Critics say there was no case to answer by the defendants
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has hit back at criticisms a court martial against UK soldiers accused of killing an Iraqi should not have been brought.

Solicitors for the seven Parachute Regiment soldiers, accused of killing Nadhem Abdullah, 18, in May 2003, say evidence was too weak for a trial.

A judge dropped the charges ruling there was insufficient evidence.

But an MoD spokesman said it was "perfectly proper" to take the "very serious allegations" to trial.

Mr Abdullah was alleged to have died following an attack on Iraqi civilians in al-Ferkah, southern Iraq.

The evidence as it came out in these last two months has been one of acknowledged lies
Solicitor Roger Brice

The cleared soldiers, who always denied murder and violent disorder, are Corporal Scott Evans, 32, and Privates Billy Nerney, 24, Samuel May, 25, Morne Vosloo, 26, Daniel Harding, 25, Roberto Di Gregorio, 24, and Scott Jackson, 26.

Roger Brice, solicitor for defendant Pte Samuel May, told BBC News: "What the judge has done today is stop the case when the prosecution have concluded... there was never a case for any of the defendants to answer.

"He summed up the fact that the evidence as it came out in these last two months has been one of acknowledged lies."

But a spokesman for the MoD said: "The judge made clear that on the basis of the evidence provided very serious allegations had been made and that it was perfectly proper to take the matter to trial."

Soldiers were not above the law and it was right that the allegations had been "followed up and the evidence tested in full", he added.

The MoD denied criticisms from some quarters that the decision to prosecute the soldiers was politically motivated.

That decision had been made by the Army Prosecuting Authority (APA) which was "independent of the Army chain of command and ministers", it said.

April 2005: Trial of Trooper Kevin Williams for murdering Iraqi civilian collapses after prosecutors offer no evidence
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Feb 2004: Trial of GCHQ whistle-blower collapses after prosecution offers no evidence
November 2002: Charges against Royal butler Paul Burrell dismissed after 1.5m trial

During the court martial, Martin Heslop QC, prosecuting, told the court Mr Abdullah was an "innocent" teenager who died after he and another man were dragged out of a white taxi and attacked with "feet, fists, helmets and rifles".

Judge Blackett directed the panel hearing the court martial in Colchester, Essex, to return a not guilty verdict on all seven defendants after criticising the "inadequate" investigation into the case.

"It has become clear to everyone involved as the trial has progressed that the main Iraqi witnesses had colluded to exaggerate and lie about the incident," he said.

Witnesses had admitted lying about being assaulted and evidence had been heard that Mr Abdullah's family encouraged others to tell lies, Judge Blackett said.

And Iraqi court witnesses had been influenced by $100-a-day payments to give evidence to make "patently exaggerated claims", he said.

Death issue

Judge Blackett also criticised the "serious omissions" in failing to search for hospital records related to the case and "not establishing whether there was a register at Al Najaf shrine in which Nadhem's burial may be recorded".

Martin Thomas QC, who represented one of the seven men, later said the question of whether Mr Abdullah had actually died had been "very much an issue".

"There was no exhumation, there was no post-mortem and the death certificate was issued by an Iraqi doctor who never saw the body himself," he told BBC News.

Meanwhile, Defence Secretary John Reid has been urged to make a Commons statement backing UK troops in Iraq following the collapse of the trial.

Tory former minister John Horam MP urged MPs to back troops "to the hilt" following the "most unsatisfactory" court martial.

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