Lawyers to be prosecuted over Iraq abuse claims


Lawyers to be prosecuted over Iraq abuse claims

Ben Farmer for The Telegraph reports that Leigh Day, a law firm behind hundreds of claims British soldiers abused Iraqis will be prosecuted for professional misconduct over accusations it failed to hand over evidence and paid improper fees of £75,000 to an Iraqi agent handling alleged victims.

On their website Leigh Day claim to be unlike other law firms: ‘We act exclusively for claimants who’ve been injured or treated unlawfully by others.’ Is there a hidden message in their claims? I think perhaps there is.

We act unlawfully

The charges against Leigh Day date back to 2004. They may take some comfort in knowing that perhaps they inspired others to jump on the Angrezi gravy train.

“I WAS ALONE in the J9 cell when the secure telephone I shared with the other dozen or so occupants starting ringing. As soon as I picked up a guttural voice announced without preamble: Iz Man at Gate.

It was a member or the Bosnian Guard Force informing me that we had a walk‑in visitor at the front gate. This was a reasonably frequent occurrence and in most cases would be a local national come to make representation to ISAF on some matter, most commonly to seek compensation for damage to property. It was well known that ISAF would reimburse citizens for any damage to crops, property or livestock for which it was responsible. In the early days of the Afghan campaign commanders would carry a quantity of hard currency with them on operations and pay out according to their own individual assessment.

Carrying large amounts of cash on the battlefield presents some obvious problems and as the campaign wore on the British professionalised their approach to the payment of compensation. Instead of cash, commanders began carrying claims forms which they passed to locals for presentation at any of the main British bases where the Military Stabilisation and Support Group (MSSG) would assess their claim and pay, where appropriate, at a predetermined but still generous rate.

Naturally the Afghans stepped up their game in response, and enterprising individuals, much like ambulance chasing law firms in the West, could be hired in the Gereshk bazaar to help citizens with their claims. These ‘consultants’ provided a range of services, including basic help with the filling out of forms, the taking of digital photos to help support claims and even representation at the weekly ‘Compensation Clinics’ run by the MSSG.

Like everyone else in theatre the MSSG assessors rotated every six months or so. This created an opportunity for those less fortunate citizens who lacked a genuine claim for compensation to jump on the Angrezi gravy train. Some less scrupulous consultants offered for sale in the bazaar photographs from historic cases which could be resubmitted in support of a fresh claim to a new assessor. I’m sure these claims consultants were obliged by their regulatory body to advise their clients that past performance was no guarantee of future success. I’m also sure that they demanded from their clients a premium for this particular service, while implying the near certainty of a payout. But this was not always the result. A number of the MSSG operators I spoke to, while grudgingly admiring this Afghan enterprise, routinely rejected claims from multiple different claimants that relied on identical photographs as supporting evidence.

I was not authorised to assess claims. If the visitor was seeking compensation there was little I could do for him other than advise him to attend a compensation clinic. However, since I was alone in the J9 cell, it fell to me to see what he wanted. The balance of probabilities suggested that this particular visitor was unlikely to be a suicide bomber, or a Taliban assassin, but I laboriously donned my body armour and checked chamber on my Sig 9mm pistol just in case.”

If Leigh Day are found to have acted unlawfully I trust they will receive a fine that is proportionate to the £30m cost of the public enquiry.

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is available as an Amazon Kindle e-book

SPIN ZHIRA: Old Man in Helmand is the unauthorised, unvarnished and irreverent story of one man’s midlife crisis on the front line of the most dangerous district in Afghanistan where the locals haven’t forgiven the British for the occupation of 1842 or for the Russian Invasion of 1979. Of course, all infidels look the same so you can’t really tell them apart.

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