Jim Fitton: Briton facing death penalty in Iraq ‘didn’t know he had broken the law’

A retired British geologist accused of smuggling historical items out of Iraq and facing the death penalty has said he did not know he had broken the law.

Jim Fitton, 66, took 12 stones and broken pottery shards that he had found at an archaeological site in Eridu.

He appeared alongside German citizen Volker Waldmann in a Baghdad court, where he insisted to a three-judge panel that he had not acted with criminal intent.

Fitton said he had “suspected” the items he had collected were ancient shards, but insisted he “didn’t know about Iraqi law at the time” or that taking the shards was not allowed.

He stressed that it was not clear that taking the pieces was a criminal offense as “there were fences, no guards or signage.”

Given his trade, he was in the habit of collecting shards as a hobby, but had no intention of selling them, Fitton said.

However, the head judge said that given the nature of the site, it was clear that it was prohibited.

“These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One does not have to say that it is prohibited,” said Jaber Abdel Jabir.

After Mr. Fitton responded that some of the fragments were “no bigger than my fingernail,” the judge replied, “Size doesn’t matter.”

The items were found in the possession of Fitton and Waldmann, who were traveling as part of an organized geology and archeology tour, as they prepared to fly out of Iraq in March.

Mr. Waldmann denied that the two artifacts found among his belongings were his, but Mr. Fitton had given them to him to take.

The next hearing is scheduled for May 22, when the court is to determine whether the men planned to profit from the fragments.

Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, with his wife Sarijah and daughter Leila

(PA Media)

Both could face the death penalty, however legal experts believe that is unlikely.

Fitton’s attorneys plan to present more evidence, including some from government officials who were present at the archaeological site where the artifacts were taken.

The UK government has been urged to step in and help try to secure Mr Fitton’s release.

MPs discussed their case in the House of Commons last week, where Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the British ambassador to Iraq had raised the case four times with the country’s authorities.

Leave a Comment