Wera Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat, told the House of Commons that she was “deeply concerned” by the handling of the case of retired geologist Jim Fitton, whose trial in Iraq was “fast approaching.”
Fitton, 66, has been detained in Iraq since last month after the accusations of smuggling. He was on a guided tour of some of the country’s ancient sites, but was arrested after collecting stones and pottery fragments from an “unguarded” spot. He was assured at the time that the items had no value.
The trip plunged into chaos at the start when the main elderly tour guide fell ill, remaining on the bus for much of the tour and leaving a trainee to lead the group. The elderly guide, Geoff Hann, 85, later died while under police detention after suffering a stroke when the group was stopped by Iraqi authorities at the airport.
Fitton is facing execution for the smuggling of the artifacts, which a petition calling on the UK government to help facilitate his release claims is the statutory punishment.
Hobhouse, who is Fitton’s daughter’s MP, raised his case in parliament on Wednesday.
“I am deeply concerned by the nature of the Foreign Office’s engagement with my constituent’s case,” she said.
Hobhouse said that Fitton’s lawyer believes that more involvement from the UK government, particularly the Foreign Office, “could make a huge difference,” but added that she felt the department is “not particularly interested or worried” by the case.
“Jim is days now away from a trial. We are told that the government will not be making crucial representations to the Iraqi government,” she said.
“I understand that the German government is making representations on behalf of one of their nationals who has been detained with Jim; why will the Foreign Office not do the same?”
The Liberal Democrat said: “British citizens deserve the help of the British government. Jim Fitton is potentially facing the death penalty. I urge ministers to do everything they can to stop this nightmare before it turns into a tragedy.”
James Cleverly, the minister for Europe and North America, said that he rejected the description of the government’s response, adding that the ambassador to Iraq and consular officials had regularly engaged with the Iraqi authorities.
“We will, of course, continue to raise this case with the Iraqi officials; we will, of course, continue to liaise with Mr. Fitton and his family; and we will continue to support British nationals in incarceration around the globe,” he added.
Cleverly told parliament: “We understand the urgency and the concerns that Mr. Fitton and his family have. We cannot, of course, interfere or seek to interfere with the judicial process of another country, just as we would not expect interference in our own judicial process.”
He added: “That said, the British ambassador in Baghdad has raised and will continue to raise Mr. Fitton’s case with the Iraqi government. That includes raising with the authorities the UK’s strong opposition to the death penalty, in the context of both its potential application to Mr. Fitton and our in-principle opposition to it in all instances.”