HUNDREDS of British soldiers have received letters questioning their role in claims of torture and murder during the Iraq War as prosecutors confirmed more than 50 deaths are set to be examined.
About 280 veterans have been sent documents telling them they were involved in an incident under investigation by the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (Ihat), a spokeswoman for the unit said.
Unlawful death cases involving 35 alleged killings have already been referred to the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA) – the military equivalent of the Crown Prosecution Service – along with 36 cases of alleged abuse and mistreatment with “multiple complainants”.
The SPA said it was also preparing to advise on an additional 20 cases of unlawful killing and 71 cases of mistreatment in the near future.
Andrew Cayley, QC, director of the SPA, said it “will not flinch” in prosecuting British soldiers where there is evidence of wrongdoing.
He added: ““Equally, I want to make it absolutely clear that no member of the British armed forces will be prosecuted unless there is sufficient evidence to do so.”
UK forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009 though lawyers are continuing to refer cases to the Ihat, the government-established criminal investigation into murder, abuse and torture claims linked to the six-year military mission.
The multi-million pound inquiry’s workload reached 1,515 possible victims by September, of whom 280 are alleged to have been unlawfully killed. Ihat’s budget is set at £57.2 million, which runs until the end of 2019 – 16 years after the 2003 invasion began.
An Ihat spokeswoman confirmed that some of the letters sent to veterans in the last two years had been hand-delivered by detectives and that there was “no obligation to respond”.
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “The vast majority of UK service personnel deployed on military operations conduct themselves professionally and in accordance with the law. The MoD takes all allegations of abuse or unlawful killing extremely seriously.”
In December 2014 British soldiers were cleared of torture and murder allegations but found guilty of mistreating nine Iraqi detainees following a fierce battle a decade before.
The five-year judge-led inquiry, which cost the taxpayer almost £31m, concluded in its final report that the murder and torture claims were the product of “deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.
The report was highly critical of the claims it was initially set up to investigate – that the Iraqi detainees had been tortured, mutilated and murdered following the three-hour battle that became known as the Battle of Danny Boy on 14 May, 2004 in southern Iraq.
It found that British forces from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment responded to an ambush with “exemplary courage, resolution and professionalism”.