Trial date set for former Bath geologist Jim Fitton facing the death penalty in Iraq
A retired geologist from Bath who is at risk of execution after allegedly smuggling artefacts is to stand trial in Iraq this week.
Jim Fitton was arrested after he collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the country’s south east, as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour, his family said.
The 66-year-old has been in custody for more than six weeks but his lawyer, Thair Soud, has now revealed he will stand trial from Sunday 15 May.
The date of his trial was revealed during an urgent session in the House of Commons to discuss his case.
The session follows Mr Fitton's family putting pressure on UK ministers to personally raise his case with their Iraqi counterparts and help end his “nightmare”.
But Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the British ambassador in Iraq has raised the case four times with Iraqi authorities.
What will Mr Fitton's trial involve?
The trial is set to begin on Sunday, a working day in Iraq, according to the Associated Press.
It has reported his lawyer will have to prove to a panel of judges that Mr Fitton did not harbour any criminal intent when he picked up shards of pottery found in the desert landscape during the visit.
Mr Fitton, who is a British national, is at risk of execution, with the statutory punishment for his alleged crime in Iraq being the death penalty.
But some MPs have joined with his family in calling for the UK Government to do more to pressure Iraqi authorities to close the case before Mr Fitton's trial begins.
'We cannot interfere with the judicial process of another country'
More than 252,000 people have signed a petition calling for ministers to intervene.
Meanwhile Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who represents Mr Fitton’s family based in Bath, told the Commons: “Jim Fitton is potentially facing the death penalty. I urge the minister to do everything they can do to stop this nightmare before it turns into a tragedy.”
But Mr Cleverly defended the UK’s response to the case but did not commit to meeting Mr Fitton's family. Labour MPs have accused Mr Cleverly of “dragging his feet” in making the ministerial-level intervention required to help protect Mr Fitton.
Mr Cleverly earlier said a meeting between officials and the family took place on Wednesday, adding: “We cannot interfere or seek to interfere with the judicial process of another country, just as we would not expect interference in our own judicial process.
“That said, the British ambassador in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise Mr Fitton’s case with the Iraqi government and this includes raising with the authorities the UK’s very strong opposition to the death penalty, both in terms of its potential application to Mr Fitton and also our in principle opposition to the death penalty in all instances.”
Mr Fitton was detained by Iraqi authorities along with a German man on the trip.
During the urgent session, Conservative former Foreign Office minister and Wiltshire MP Andrew Murrison said Germany, at a ministerial level, appears to be “far more involved”.
SNP MP Chris Law (Dundee West) asked if it was true that ministers have “yet to lobby their Iraqi counterparts against issuing a death sentence”.
Mr Cleverly reiterated the “intensive level of engagement that we have had at the most senior levels within the British embassy in Iraq, directly with the Iraqi government”.
The Foreign Office has said it will step in if he is handed the death penalty.
"We are providing consular support to a British national in Iraq and we are in contact with local authorities," a Foreign Office spokesperson said.
"The British government's policy on the death penalty is clear, we oppose it in all circumstances as a matter of principle."
The Iraqi embassy did not respond to ITV's request for comment.