The unit investigating claims of abuse by British forces in Iraq will be closed down, the government has announced, saying it will also greatly reduce similar inquiries connected to Afghanistan and Northern Ireland.
Ministers said the decision was made in the wake of misconduct findings against a solicitor involved in many of the claims. However, rights groups said it was important abuse was not “brushed under the carpet”.
The Iraq historic allegations team (Ihat) will close as early as this summer, the defence secretary, Michael Fallon, said on Friday. Any remaining investigations – expected to soon fall to about 20 from a peak of 3,000 – will be investigated by the Royal Navy police.
They would be expected to complete any final investigations by the summer of 2018, Fallon added.
He said the decision was made following the professional hearing earlier this month which saw campaigning human rights lawyer Phil Shiner struck off as a solicitor over multiple professional misconduct charges, including dishonesty and lack of integrity.
The Birmingham lawyer had led legal claims against British troops for their treatment of Iraqi detainees after the 2003 invasion. His company, Public Interest Lawyers (PIL), was involved in passing on almost two-thirds of the 3,392 allegations received by Ihat.
Shiner had pursued the case of Baha Mousa, a Basra hotel worker whose death after 36 hours in British military custody prompted an inquiry which condemned the treatment of…