Published on Thursday, April 7, 2005 by the Guardian/UK
Soldier Cleared of Murdering Iraqi
by Press Association
A British soldier was cleared today of murdering an Iraqi civilian after the prosecution offered no evidence against him.
Trooper Kevin Williams, 22, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, left London's high court with "his honour intact and his head held high", his barrister said.
The soldier, from Burnley, Lancashire, had been accused of killing Hassan Abbad Said, a lawyer and father of nine, near Basra on August 3 2003, and was the first member of the British armed forces to be charged with murder during postwar operations in Iraq.
A charge brought against Trooper Williams under military law was dismissed by his commanding officer, but a murder charge was later brought against him under civil law by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
But today the CPS offered no evidence because it said new evidence had emerged and there was no reasonable prospect of conviction.
The court heard that Trooper Williams was on patrol with other soldiers when they discovered six Iraqis moving a cart containing heavy machine gun ammunition. Three of the men were detained. A fourth, Mr Said, ran off, pursued by Trooper Williams and Corporal Jeffrey Blair, who caught up with him in a private courtyard.
Mr Said, who was unarmed, refused to be handcuffed and, during attempts to restrain him, he was shot by the trooper, who believed he was trying to get hold of Cpl Blair's gun.
Explaining today's decision to the court, Richard Horwell, first senior treasury counsel, said: "The appropriate test in law has always been Trooper Williams's actual perception of danger and he has consistently said that in a moment of crisis he believed that Corporal Blair's life, and that of his own, were at risk."
Mr Horwell said the crown had changed its view "that the factual disputes between Trooper Williams and Cpl Blair no longer have the same degree of importance once placed upon them".
He said the original CPS decision was taken after the most careful consideration but the case had been reviewed again "at the highest level".
At a hearing earlier this year, Mrs Justice Heather Hallett said there was no suggestion of an army cover-up or of the civil charge being brought as a result of political pressure. She said everyone had acted in good faith.
The judge said at that hearing that troops worked in dreadful physical conditions, "never knowing when, in a moment, an apparently benign situation would turn into a lethal attack".
Today David Nathan QC, for Trooper Williams, told the judge that the decision to drop the charge did not undo what he had to live through for many months, facing the prospect of trial for murder before a jury.
"There was no doubt in his mind that, when he fired that gun, Mr Said was about to go for his colleague's side arm and cause serious injury or death to his colleague or himself," said Mr Nathan. "All he could do was fire his gun to save his fellow soldier's life."
Mr Nathan said: "Not only has this been an ordeal for this young man, but the prospect of his facing trial in circumstances such as this has caused grave concern to many of his fellow soldiers.
"Decisions to prosecute young men and women in circumstances such as this are bound to undermine confidence and morale and the effectiveness of our troops when they are facing terrible and difficult situations."
The new evidence referred to by the crown had always been available if the crown had chosen to go and find it, he added.
Mr Nathan told the judge: "Trooper Williams's conduct that day has now been finally vindicated and we ask you to allow him to walk from this court without doubt, reservation or qualification, his honour intact and his head held high."
Recording a verdict of not guilty, the judge said: "Corporal Williams, you are discharged."
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