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Family of detained geologist hope he will be returned ‘safe and sound soon’

The family of a retired British geologist detained in Iraq over smuggling allegations say they remain hopeful he will be returned “safe and sound soon” (PA)
The family of a retired British geologist detained in Iraq over smuggling allegations say they remain hopeful he will be returned “safe and sound soon” (PA)

The family of a retired British geologist detained in Iraq over smuggling allegations say they remain hopeful he will be returned “safe and sound soon”.

Jim Fitton, 66, insisted he had not acted with criminal intent and had no idea he was breaking Iraqi laws during his first court appearance in Baghdad.

The father-of-two 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.

But Mr Fitton and German tourist Volker Waldmann were arrested after the items were found in their possession as their group prepared to fly out of Baghdad airport on March 20.

A second court hearing has been organised for May 22 and the judges must determine whether the defendants had sought to profit by taking the items.

Mr Fitton’s son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, who lives in Bath, Somerset, told the PA news agency: “We note that the judge has postponed the hearing to next weekend; we remain hopeful that Jim will be able to continue to articulate himself well as we believe that his innocence is self evident.

“We are hopeful that he is returned to us safe and sound soon so that we can all recover in peace from this terrible ordeal.”

Mr Tasker said the family has still not spoken to any UK minister regarding the case, adding: “We are focusing on the trial and are no longer actively lobbying the foreign office to intervene as it feels like a lost cause.”

Both defendants could face the death penalty, according to Iraqi law, but it has been suggested such an outcome is unlikely.

Mr Fitton said he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments but said there were no guards or signage which said they could not be picked up.

The defence plans to submit more evidence to clear the men, Mr Fitton’s defence lawyer Thair Soud told the Associated Press.

This includes evidence from government officials present at the site where the fragments were collected.

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who represents the Bath constituency, said: “I am pleased that the judge has postponed the hearing to allow for additional evidence to be submitted.

“Jim’s family have accepted that they will receive no further help on behalf of the Foreign Office and they are now fully focused on the trial.”

She added: “The Foreign Office has set a dangerous precedent for British citizens who are in trouble abroad and I hope that they will commit to a root-and-branch review of how the Foreign Office responds to situations like this in the future.”

A petition calling for UK ministers to intervene to help free Mr Fitton, who lives in Malaysia, has collected more than 272,000 signatures.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly last week said the British ambassador in Iraq has raised the case four times with Iraqi authorities and consular support has been provided to Mr Fitton and his family.

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