British pensioner jailed for 15 years in Iraq for 'smuggling'

Heartbroken daughter of Briton jailed for 15 years in Iraq for ‘smuggling’ shards of pottery breaks down on GMB as ‘helpless and broken’ family reveal he is in a ‘state of shock’ in prison

  • Jim Fitton handed jail term ‘beyond worst case scenario’ for smuggling pottery
  • Pottery shards dating back more than 200 years were found in his possession
  • But the retiree insisted he was told he could take them at an archaeological site
  • Fitton’s charge carried maximum death penalty – but only one year was expected
  • The 66 year-old was instead hit with a brutal 15-year jail term by an Iraqi judge
  • His daughter Leila broke down on national television this morning as she attempted to answer questions about her father’s fate

The daughter of a retired British geologist condemned to 15 years in an Iraqi jail after he was convicted of trying to smuggle shards of antique pottery broke down on national television this morning as she spoke of her father’s fate.

Jim Fitton, 66, was yesterday found guilty of intending to take the 200-year-old artefacts he picked up at an archaeology site in Eridu, southern Iraq, out of Baghdad in March.  

The British father of two insisted he was told by individuals at the ancient site he was allowed to take the shards and that they were of no value. 

But Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that, by picking up the items and intending to transport them out of the country, Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle them. 

Fitton’s daughter Leila this morning appeared on Good Morning Britain to give an interview regarding her father’s detention, but only managed to utter two sentences before breaking down in tears.

‘We feel helpless… we’re so so broken,’ she sobbed, before her husband Sam Tasker told hosts Richard Madeley and Susanna Reid: ‘We only just found out yesterday, it’s a very emotional time. This whole thing has been unbelievable.’

A 15-year jail sentence would see Fitton languish behind bars into his eighties. 

Leila later said she had only had brief contact with her father yesterday – the only time they had spoken since he was accused of the bogus crime – but again was forced to hand over to her husband as she began sobbing uncontrollably.

‘He was not emotional when he spoke to me… he was just trying to keep strong for us,’ she said through tears.

Fitton’s son-in-law Tasker said Fitton was ‘just as shocked as we were’ by the brutal verdict and claimed the retiree had been made an example of by the Iraqi judge who was appealing to an anti-Western crowd.

Madeley meanwhile described the pieces of pottery picked up by Fitton as ‘completely worthless, like stuff you’d pick up on the beach’.

The presenter offered Leila and Tasker his ‘heartfelt sympathies’, before adding: ‘It is an absolute nightmare… it’s a travesty, an absolute travesty.’

Leila Fitton (left), the daughter of a retired British geologist condemned to 15 years in an Iraqi jail after he was convicted of trying to smuggle antique pottery, broke down on national television this morning

‘We feel helpless… we’re so so broken,’ Leila sobbed, before her husband Sam Tasker told hosts Richard Madeley and Susanna Reid (pictured): ‘We only just found out yesterday, it’s a very emotional time. This whole thing has been unbelievable’

Jim Fitton (left) was sentenced yesterday to 15 years in jail for trying to smuggle antique pottery out of Iraq

Mr Fitton (centre) and Volker Waldman (right) appear in court outside Baghdad last month

Fitton (right) pictured with daughter Leila (left) and wife Sarijah (centre) on holiday in Asia 

Upon learning that Fitton had been sentenced to 15 years in jail yesterday, son-in-law Tasker said: ‘We are absolutely shattered by this news. 

‘For a man of Jim’s age, 15 years in an Iraqi prison is tantamount to a death sentence. 

‘Particularly for such a trivial and dubious crime, a crime that Jim was not even aware of when he perpetrated it.

‘We are completely heartbroken that our own best efforts, a strong legal defence and constant campaigning have led to this outcome. We are disappointed, indeed stunned, at our own government’s total lack of action in this case to date. 

‘We are raising an appeal and will continue to fight for Jim’s freedom, and urge the government to support us in every way possible and to open lines of communication with us at a senior level.’ 

Fitton’s stunned lawyer expected the sentence handed out yesterday to be a maximum of one year behind bars – and a suspended sentence.

Thair Soud, visibly shocked moments after the sentencing, told AP:  ‘I thought the worst case scenario would be one year, with suspension,’ and confirmed he intends to appeal the sentence immediately. 

The judge did not consider Soud’s arguments that laid out Fitton’s ignorance of Iraqi laws and the value of the items he picked up. 

Mr Fitton (left) and Mr Waldman (right) are pictured from behind as they entered court yesterday

Mr Fitton is pictured in a holiday selfie

Fitton’s case garnered attention when, frustrated by perceived inaction on the part of the British Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) to intervene, his family started a petition that has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

Brits have since been warned against all travel to Iraq, and the British Ambassador is also reported to have raised the case with Iraqi authorities.

But the British diplomatic mission in Baghdad has not commented on its involvement in the case.

An FCDO spokesperson told MailOnline: ‘We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq, and continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.’

However, the UK government is said to be wary of interfering in Iraq’s legal system.

Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah but is originally from Bath, where Leila and her husband now reside. 

Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, said of the sentencing: ‘This is clearly a devastating outcome for Jim and his family. There is now no other option but for the Foreign Secretary to intervene at a Ministerial level. 

‘The Foreign Secretary must make representations to the Iraqi Government. 

‘This is yet another example of the British Government presiding over a case of a British national in trouble abroad and they have failed to take action.’Fitton and a German national, Volker Waldman, were arrested in Baghdad airport after security staff discovered the items in their luggage. 

They had been part of a tourism expedition across the country’s ancient sites. 

Waldman’s defence team has said the German tourist had been carrying the pieces for Fitton but that he did not pick them up from the site. Waldman was ultimately cleared of any wrongdoing.

Under a 2002 antiquity law, Fitton faced a maximum sentence of the death penalty.

But officials said that was only a remote possibility.

Last month Fitton’s son-in-law said the family were all ‘struggling immensely’ after the trial faced a series of postponements. 

Tasker, 27, said: ‘Obviously we’re just trying to get Jim home safe and sound as quickly as possible.

Fitton is pictured sitting in the backseat alongside family members in this undated photo

Fitton is pictured with Waldman and a court clerk outside the Baghdad courthouse last month

This morning the pair appeared in court, where Fitton was sentenced and Waldman cleared

‘Every setback we get cuts us all deeply, and another two-week delay to the verdict just leaves us all in limbo for longer.

‘The family are all struggling immensely with the uncertainty and our constant fear for Jim’s life.

‘And two more weeks in a holding cell for Jim, bringing him to ten weeks in detention in total, is worrying given his age.’

Ms Hobhouse said in May: ‘I am thinking of Jim again today and his family who have been through so much. Another two weeks in a holding cell is a cruel ordeal that should have been avoided.’

Ms Hobhouse added: ‘Jim and his family have shown incredible resolve and strength over this whole ordeal, and I hope that they receive the support they need over the next two weeks.

‘This situation could have been avoided if the Foreign Office acted earlier. We’ve all accepted that the Foreign Office will be offering no further help to Jim and his family.’

The Foreign Office had said it cannot interfere with the judicial process of another country and made clear its opposition to the death penalty.

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