British geologist Jim Fitton jailed in Iraq for taking stones from historical site

Jim Fitton, 66 and originally from Bath, has been sentenced to 15 years in an Iraqi prison

A British man has been sentenced to 15 years in an Iraqi prison after collecting items from a historical site in the east of the country.

Jim Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while on an organised geology and archaeology tour in Eridu, in south east Iraq.

The 66-year-old was arrested alongside German tourist Volker Waldmann as they prepared to fly out of Baghdad airport on March 20.

Fitton has always insisted he had not acted with criminal intent and had no idea he was breaking Iraqi law, but he was found guilty of artefact smuggling. Waldmann was acquitted of the same charges.

Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah while his daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Mr Tasker are based in Bath. He missed his daughter's wedding last month as he was being detained in Iraq.

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

There were fears he would be handed the death penalty but he has today (6 June) been sentenced to 15 years in prison.

It is not clear if Fitton can serve out his sentence in his home country as this would require a bilateral agreement between Iraq and the UK.

Fitton's lawyer Thair Soud was visibly shocked after the hearing, telling The Associated Press: "I thought the worst case scenario would be one year, with suspension.” 

Fitton said he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments, but that “at the time I didn’t know about Iraqi laws,” or that taking the shards was not permitted.

Jim Fitton was detained while trying to leave the country in March Credit: AP Images

He said that as a geologist he was in the habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and had no intention of selling them.

But Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that by picking up the items - which were found to be artefacts older than 200 years, according to a technical government investigation - and intending to transport them out of the country, Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle them.

Fitton's lawyer said he would appeal the verdict on the grounds that there was no criminal intent.