Safety fears mount for geologist jailed in Iraq as Truss is urged to intervene

Jim Fitton, 66, is being moved to a general population prison earlier than expected.

09 June 2022

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has faced demands to “intervene at the highest level” after safety concerns were raised for a retired British geologist jailed for 15 years in Iraq.

Jim Fitton, 66, is being moved from an airport detention cell to a prison several days earlier than expected following his sentencing for attempted artefact smuggling, according to his family and MP.

His family fear the move to a general population prison could see Mr Fitton in the same institution as former members of the Islamic State terror group, also known as Daesh, as well as others likely to be hostile to a British national.

An appeal is being prepared by Mr Fitton’s team and they continue to argue he had no intent to smuggle the items.

Father-of-two Mr Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in Iraq’s south east, as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour.

The items were found in the possession of Mr Fitton and German tourist Volker Waldmann, who has since been cleared, as their group prepared to fly out of Baghdad airport on March 20.

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who represents Mr Fitton’s Bath-based family, said of his move to a prison: “This is very concerning, so soon after Jim’s sentencing and before we find out the result of the appeal.

“I know Jim’s family must be worried sick and I am thinking of them and Jim today, as ever. The Foreign Secretary must now do what is right and intervene at the highest level.”

Geologist at risk of the death penalty
Jim Fitton with his wife Sarijah and his daughter Leila (family handout/PA)

Mr Fitton’s son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, from Bath, Somerset, said of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office: “The idea that they have basically abandoned Jim to his fate and are just sort of managing us as if we’re a problem to be solved rather than working with us to save the life of a British man in trouble abroad is just unbelievable, it blows me away.

“There’s no urgency about them whatsoever.”

He also said the family hope the appeal will enable the evidence to be reviewed and result in his father-in-law being released.

Mr Tasker, who is married to Mr Fitton’s daughter Leila, 31, told the PA news agency: “We keep staying positive about things and things keep getting worse, every few days something gets worse so it’s really, really hard to think positively about the appeal.

“We’re doing everything we can to push the appeal forward.”

Mr Tasker said it had initially been expected that Mr Fitton would be transferred to a general population prison next week, and it is unclear what contact they can have with him while he is held there.

He explained: “A general population prison in Iraq, there’ll be former Daesh members in there, there will be extremists, people who have been arrested from militia groups, fundamentalists, there’ll be people who fought against the British and American troops in the Iraq war.

“All of these people are not going to take kindly to an elderly white British man, notwithstanding the treatment he’ll get from guards, prison officials and the general treatment of prisoners in Iraq – which I understand leaves a lot to be desired – but particularly from the inmates in the prison, we’re absolutely terrified about him being exposed to that.

“If the Foreign Office’s aim all along was just to avoid a death sentence, they shouldn’t be patting themselves on the back because he’s a 66-year-old man sentenced to 15 years in an Iraqi jail.

“If by some miracle he gets out of there, he’ll be 81 years old.”

Mr Tasker said the family spoke to Mr Fitton on the phone for the first time in 93 days after he returned from court on Monday, adding: “He just sounded as shocked as we are really.”

Mr Fitton, who lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah, spent the rest of the three to four-minute phone call trying to make family arrangements in his absence.

Ms Hobhouse said the lack of contact between a UK minister and the family is “nothing short of a disgrace”.

She said: “The way this situation has unfolded has been absolutely shocking. The Foreign Office has refused to intervene for months now. It is simply not fair on Jim or his family and sets a devastating precedent for British citizens in trouble abroad.

“Jim is not a criminal. He is a 66-year-old geologist who has been deserted by the British Government.”

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