Jim Fitton: Briton to be freed from Iraqi prison after antiquities smuggling conviction overturned, family say – MKFM 106.3FM
A retired British geologist will be released from an Iraqi prison after his conviction for attempted smuggling of artifacts was overturned, according to his family.
Jim Fitton was imprisoned for 15 years after collecting 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs from a trip to an ancient site in Eridu.
The 66-year-old was arrested at Baghdad airport in March when the broken pottery was found in his luggage.
Mr Fitton had been on an organized geology and archeology tour and his family said he had ask an experienced guide if he could take the items home.
Iraqi officials later claimed that the objects could be considered archaeological pieces because they were over 200 years old.
Mr Fitton said he ‘suspected’ the objects were ancient fragments, but said there was no signage at the site or information provided to advise him taking them was against the law .
He was first held in an airport detention center after his arrest and has been in an Iraqi prison since the second week of June.
A German tourist, Volker Waldmann, had been arrested with him but was released after he said the fragments found in his luggage had been given to him by Mr Fitton.
Mr. Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah. His daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker are based in Bath.
They said they were “over the moon” after hearing he had now been cleared.
Mr Tasker, 27, said in a statement: “For the first time since March 20, Leila, Josh, Sarijah and I are smiling without irony.
“We have been informed this morning that the Court of Appeal has decided to overturn the verdict of the criminal court, to fully recognize Jim’s innocence in this case and to proceed with his immediate release from a 15-year prison sentence. jail in Baghdad.
“We understand this process is ongoing – he is still in jail tonight but will be released soon.
“We won’t be doing any press interviews or giving details of the situation until he’s home, as we don’t want to ignite the wrong bands or put him at risk.
“Once he’s home, we’ll celebrate and take time to recover as a family, and we’ll be happy to tell the story to anyone who will listen.”
Mr Tasker said the family “expects him to be home by the end of the week”, although the timing remains unclear.
Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, hailed the “fantastic development”.
“It’s impossible to imagine the stress Jim and his family have endured over the past few months,” she said.
“Jim and his family have shown incredible strength and should be extremely proud of the role they have played in pressuring the government to act. It has been an incredibly anxious time and the government should think about how to improve the way it responds to these cases in the first instance.
“It’s a testament to the hard work of the Consulate team, Foreign Office officials and, of course, Jim’s family.”
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are providing consular assistance to a British national in Iraq and continuing to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.”
(c) Sky News 2022: Jim Fitton: Briton to be freed from Iraqi jail after being convicted of antiquities smuggling