Iraqi torture claims solicitor 'did not consider impact on accused soldiers'

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A solicitor has said she did not consider the impact on soldiers and their families of a press conference where now-disproved allegations of torture of Iraqi civilians by British Army troops were sensationally claimed.

Sapna Malik, of Leigh Day, insisted caution was exercised in the run-up to the February 2008 event in which Phil Shiner from Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and Leigh Day co-founder Martyn Day outlined accusations of torture and execution of up to 20 Iraqi civilians and the torture of nine others at nearby Camp Abu Naji in Iraq.

Leigh Day pursued damages claims against the Ministry of Defence (MoD) over the alleged mistreatment and unlawful killing of captives following the Battle of Danny Boy in May 2004.

Ms Malik, appearing before the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) in London, said she did not consider the impact on veterans and their families while involved in the run-up to the press conference, in which she said she had a "fairly small" role.

Andrew Tabachnik QC, for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), asked: "Did you consider the impact of the press conference on the soldiers and their families?"

"No, I do not think I did," she replied.

He went on: "You did have a reasonable amount of involvement in the run-up to the press conference and what the line (was that) was going to be taken?"

"I would still say it was fairly small," she said.

"To describe it as minimal would be an exaggeration wouldn't it?" he asked.

"I don't believe so," she answered.

In the conference, Mr Day said he believed the allegations were "likely to be true".

Ms Malik conceded there was a "slight difference" between a solicitor simply reporting their clients' allegations and going further to present them as true, but did not consider this improper when they were calling for an investigation to "put both sides of the matter across".

She repeated that she believed caution had been exercised in the reviewing of material, as Mr Tabachnik put it to her that there were discrepancies in some accounts of the dead Iraqis' wounds and questions of accuracy over some death certificates.

The tribunal also heard that despite an attempt to meet the doctors who had carried out the post-mortem examinations of the bodies of the dead Iraqis, they were not seen or interviewed before the conference.

There had been no attempt to find out if any of the doctors spoke English, which two of whom did, and no attempt to reach them by phone before the press conference, Ms Malik said.

In December 2014, the long-running Al-Sweady Inquiry (ASI) dismissed the allegations as "false".

The tribunal heard Ms Malik did not discuss or consider publishing a correction between the press conference almost seven years earlier and January 2015.

Asked if she ever considered saying to the clients "we want to correct (the firm's) position and if you won't let us correct our position then we will have to cease acting", she replied: "No, I was going to await the outcome of the inquiry."

Ms Malik and Mr Day face 16 misconduct charges, which include an allegation of improper conduct relating to the press conference involving Mr Shiner.

Fellow solicitor Anna Crowther faces four counts, including an allegation of destroying a key document, and the firm is charged with 11 counts.

All deny the allegations.

Mr Shiner was struck off earlier this year for dishonestly pursuing torture and murder claims against British troops.

A total of 22 charges against him, including 12 he had denied or partially admitted and five of dishonesty, were found proved by the SDT last month.

The tribunal also heard that an email from Ms Malik to Mr Day in October 2008 mentioning bribes was sent when she was exhausted and "blowing off steam".

She said it was a "throwaway term" that she had used without intending any legal meaning because she was simply frustrated about the level of expenses being incurred.

The firm's accounting records showed there were "work leave" payments made to 10 Iraqi police officers as well as other payments.

She told the tribunal that if she had seriously believed the payments were bribes she would have "slept on it", and followed it up with Mr Day later.

Mr Tabachnik said: "Can I suggest to you that the real reason you did not ask Mr Day again about these work leave payments is that the message was absolutely clear to you, from the fact that he had ducked the issue completely in his email, that he just did not want to know anything about this?"

She replied: "No, I do not accept that."

The tribunal continues next week.