Ministers 'lobbying' for release of British archaeologist Jim Fitton from Iraq prison, ITV News told

Jim Fitton was convicted of smuggling while trying to leave Iraq with 12 small stones and bits of pottery he collected in the desert, Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reports

The government is "lobbying" for British archaeologist Jim Fitton to be released from prison in Iraq, according to Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.

Mr Fitton, from Bath, was jailed for 15 years at the start of June for attempting to smuggle artefacts out of the country, a crime which also carries the death penalty.

His family has been critical of the Foreign Office, saying there's been a lack of response to his case from the government department.

But when asked about it, Ms Truss revealed to ITV News: “We are working to lobby the Iraqi government on this.

"I know our ambassador is working on that as is our ministerial team.

"Ultimately this is a decision for the Iraqi authorities but we’re doing all we can to secure this release."

'We're doing all we can,' says Foreign Secretary Liz Truss

The 66-year-old's family declined to comment on the foreign secretary’s comments on Thursday, but ITV News understands this is the first time the government has said publicly or indeed privately that it is pushing for his release.

Owing to the sensitivities around his appeal, his family is understood to be avoiding any kind of move that could impact negatively on his case.

On March 20, Mr Fitton was found by Iraqi officials with 12 small stones and bits of pottery from the desert, as he tried to leave the country.

Earlier this month, ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn reported on Jim Fitton's sentencing in Iraq

Believed to be worthless the geologist had held on to them as a memento of his trip. 

He was charged and convicted - but his co-accused, a German national named Volker Waldmann, was found not guilty.

Mr Fitton’s MP Wera Hobhouse suspects that had the Foreign Office taken a more robust approach, her constituent’s case may have had a different outcome.

Bath's Liberal Democrat said: “It seems that German officials took a much tougher stance and intervened a lot earlier, and were much more visible in their opposition, versus the Foreign Office [who] took the approach of softly, softly.

Jim Fitton's local MP Wera Hobhouse questions the Foreign Office response

"We've got two outcomes. One prisoner is now free. And Jim Fitton, our British citizen is not free.

"So there's quite clear contrast, which makes one wonder whether the Foreign Office approach has been correct."

A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “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.”

Mr Fitton is appealing against his conviction in the hope of either reducing his sentence or being cleared altogether.