£1m payout looms for family of Iraqi hotel worker after the MoD finally admits he WAS tortured by British soldiers


Last updated at 08:27 28 March 2008

Ministers have finally accepted blame for the death of an Iraqi civilian who was beaten by British soldiers - after a £20million trial failed to find his killers.

Baha Mousa, a 26-year-old hotel receptionist, died after 36 hours in British custody in Basra.

He had suffered sustained beatings and abuse which left his body barely recognisable. Eight other detainees also suffered hours of violent abuse.

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Until now the Ministry of Defence has refused to accept liability.

But in a statement to Parliament yesterday Defence Secretary Des Browne accepted that British forces had breached Mr Mousa's human rights - specifically his right to life and his right not to be tortured - and that the breaches must lead to compensation.

The prohibition of torture was also breached for seven other detainees rounded up in the same raid, who were also beaten.

It leaves the MoD liable for unlimited compensation likely to run to tens of millions of pounds. Mr Mousa's family could receive more than £1million.

An investigation and a six-month court martial failed to convict anyone of causing his death and the judge accused the Army of "closing ranks" to protect the killers.

However, critics claimed the wrong men were put on trial, in particular the regiment's commanding officer Colonel Jorge Mendonca, and accused the Government of political interference.

Only one of the seven defendants, Corporal Donald Payne, admitted an offence - a single charge of inhumane treatment of prisoners.

It made him the first British serviceman to be convicted of a war crime. He served a 12-month sentence and was thrown out of the Army.

Last night, Baha Mousa's father, Dawood, said: "This confession of guilt is a victory for us.

"This admission shows that our voices can still be heard and that Iraqi lives do count."

Human rights campaigners called for a full independent inquiry to try to uncover the truth surrounding the abuses.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, likened Mr Mousa to "the Stephen Lawrence of Iraq".

The formal-acceptance of liability re-opens what has become the most embarrassing and damaging episode of the British armed forces' five-year-old mission in Iraq.

Baha Mousa was among nine men arrested by troops from the Queen's Lancashire Regiment in Basra during the violent summer of 2003, suspected of being insurgents.

A post-mortem examination found 93 injuries, seemingly the result of sustained beatings which left him barely recognisable.

The MoD has confirmed that the criminal case is closed. Dawood Mousa, a colonel in Basra police, and Baha Mousa's two orphaned sons are suing the MoD for compensation in the High Court.

The family was initially given an interim payment of £1,500 after his death but they are believed to have rejected a further "final" offer of another £2,500.

Yesterday, Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth added a formal apology to Mr Browne's statement.

He said: "I deeply regret the actions of a very small number of troops and I offer my sincere apologies and sympathy to the family of Baha Mousa and the other eight Iraqi detainees.

"All but a handful of the over 120,000 British troops who have served in Iraq have conducted themselves to the highest standards of behaviour."