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Volume 448: debated on Wednesday 5 July 2006

To ask the Solicitor-General when he was first informed that “wetting” was official policy for dealing with looters in Basra; what witness statements to this effect were disclosed to Crown counsel; and if he will make a statement. (77183)

I have never been informed that “wetting” is official policy for dealing with looters in Basra. No witness statements saying that “wetting” is official policy for dealing with looters in Basra were disclosed to Crown counsel either prior to the trial of soldiers relating to the death of an Iraqi youth in the Shatt al Basra River or since the conclusion of these proceedings.

I am told that during the trial three witnesses gave evidence as to a practice of putting detained looters in water which appears to refer to “wetting”. Mr. Daniel O'Connell, formerly a Lieutenant Platoon Commander, said there was a practice of making looters wet which was discussed at the company “O” Group meetings; however it was not formal policy. He indicated that he had witnessed one such incident of looters being put into a dyke where they were waist high and in no real danger.

Major Peter MacMullen the Company Commander said that the looting problem was discussed at Battle group meetings and that he was aware of a range of sanctions that were being deployed, which included people being put into water so that they would be left cold, wet and miserable.

Mr. Niall Brennan, formerly the Company Second in Command, said he knew of other companies throwing looters into the Shatt al Arab River. He did not consider they were in danger of drowning and claimed that he did not consider this dangerous because it involved the use of minimum force.

Despite this evidence, coming from higher up the chain of command, the evidence given at trial made it clear that neither the commanders on the ground nor the individual soldiers were aware of such a policy or practice (officially sanctioned or otherwise). Not one of the accused raised this in their witness statements or interviews under caution. None of the members of their platoon or section who gave evidence knew of such a policy or had even heard of looters being put into water. Knowledge of the policy, if one did indeed exist, was restricted to the middle echelons of the chain of command only.

During the course of the trial a statement was obtained from the then Battle Group Commander, Brigadier Riddle-Webster, who said that the practice of “wetting” had never been discussed and had he heard of such a practice he would have put a stop to it immediately since he regarded it as illegal, dangerous and immoral. However due to legal reasons this was not put before the Board.