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Soldiers cleared of double shooting in Iraq

5 May 2006

No one will face charges over the shootings of a British soldier and an Iraqi civilian in Basra three years ago, after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided there was “insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction”.

The Attorney General told the House of Lords that full inquiries by the CPS, Metropolitan Police (Met) and Army Prosecuting Authority (APA) had concluded that none of the six British soldiers involved in deaths of Mr Zaher Zabti Zaher and Sergeant Steven Roberts had acted unlawfully.

“The reason for this was that the evidence of these soldiers involved in the shooting was that Mr Zaher was attacking Sergeant Roberts and they acted to defend him,” Lord Goldsmith said.

“The conclusion of investigations shows that, while there were inconsistencies in accounts provided by them, British soldiers at the scene who witnessed the incident broadly support this version.”

The incident occurred on the outskirts of Basra in March 2003, when Zaher approached Roberts, who was standing by a roadblock consisting of a number of tanks.

According to the evidence given by British soldiers, Zaher started throwing rocks at Roberts and after ignoring repeated warnings to stop, was shot at and killed by soldiers in two nearby vans. Two of the bullets hit Roberts in the torso. He later died from his wounds.

Following a short investigation and report by the Special Investigations Branch of the Royal Military Police and numerous failed attempts to have the case re-opened, the APA asked the Attorney General to transfer the case to the ‘civilian authorities’. The CPS and the Met then took over investigations, which involved taking evidence from US soldiers present at the scene and Iraqi witnesses, and travelling to Iraq to exhume Zaher’s body for a post-mortem.

In its statement on the investigation, the CPS said that a senior lawyer had undertaken the case to find out whether the soldiers who fired the shots had acted unlawfully. “To answer this it was necessary to consider the Rules of Engagement, the Geneva Convention and the domestic law on self-defence,” the statement read.

The CPS statement said: “Although a jury might conclude that the soldiers misjudged the degree of danger and overreacted, it is much more likely that a jury would find that the soldiers did no more than what they instinctively believed to be necessary and reasonable in the circumstances.”

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