Bath geologist detained in Iraq ‘heartbroken’ at missing daughter’s wedding celebration

Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in Iraq Credit: PA Media

A retired geologist from Bath at risk of being executed overseas is “heartbroken” at missing his daughter’s wedding celebrations, his family said.

Jim Fitton, 66, was sent photographs of Leila and her husband Sam Tasker’s festivities as he continues to be detained in Iraq over artefact smuggling allegations.

Ms Fitton, 31, and Mr Tasker, 27, held a small ceremony – which was restricted to close friends and British family due to Covid – in their home city of Bath, Somerset, last August.

A larger bash with Ms Fitton’s extended family in Malaysia, where her father and mother Sarijah also live, took place on Friday and Sunday.

But Mr Fitton was forced to miss out – with his family expecting court proceedings against him to begin in Iraq this week.

From left to right: Jim Fitton’s wife Sarijah Fitton, his son-in-law Sam Tasker, daughter Leila Fitton, and son Joshua Fitton Credit: Family handout/PA

He was held after collecting stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the country’s south-east, during an organised geology and archaeology tour in March, according to his family.

They said the items were later judged to be artefacts under Iraqi law and the charge levelled at Mr Fitton states “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution”.

The family has renewed its appeal for Foreign Office ministers to help free the father-of-two, with a petition collecting more than 124,000 signatures.

Supporters have also written letters to MPs in a bid to increase the pressure on the Foreign Office.

Mr Tasker said Mr Fitton’s son Joshua filled the roles required for the wedding ceremonies in Malaysia.

Speaking about his father-in-law Mr Tasker said “He wasn’t able to give Leila away; her brother had to kind of step up and give her away.

“He was obviously heartbroken and just sent us a message saying, ‘You all look great. Best of luck. All my love to you all.'”

He said Mr Fitton, “as he has been doing throughout”, has been “putting on a brave face and trying not to make it about him, really, which is antithetical to the point because all we’re thinking about is him”.

Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, with his wife Sarijah and his daughter Leila. Credit: family handout

He added: “We sent him some photos across and he remarked that the house looked amazing because Leila’s mum put a load of work into making the house look nice and getting the flowers and all the rest of it arranged and set up.

“He apologised for not being there as well, which is obviously out of his control.

“He seems to be doing OK and I think it was kind of a bittersweet moment for him really; it’s lovely to see the photos and everything but he’d prefer to be with us, of course.”

Mr Tasker said a “keep calm and carry on” approach was adopted for the celebrations.

He also said: “We are just doing everything we can to get political engagement from Foreign Office ministers, really.”

Mr Tasker praised the support from the UK embassy staff in Iraq but said they have “one hand tied behind their back by political decision-making”.

He added: “That’s what we need to change and that’s what we continue to push for.”

Mr Fitton and his wife Sarijah Credit: Handout/PA

Mr Tasker said his family is “grateful” for the support its campaign has received, adding: “We just need to reach critical mass of pressure on the Foreign Office before it’s too late.

“It’s a shame that we have to approach it in that way but it is what it is.

“So we continue to push because we can’t do anything else – and we’re not giving up.”

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling has previously said the UK has “raised (its) concerns” with the Iraqi authorities “regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle”.

Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, said: “At the end of the day the Foreign Office is still abandoning Jim.

“I cannot understand why they are still refusing to help Jim.”

Ms Hobhouse added: “I will be using all of the avenues I can to pressure the Foreign Office to intervene.”