Collateral Damage: How I was investigated for murder for serving Queen and country

After doing the job he’d been trained and equipped for, former soldier Gary Roberts found himself investigated by the Government-formed Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) for the confirmed killing of an armed Iraqi insurgent in 2003.

More than 1,000 veterans were investigated by the IHAT before it was shut down ignominiously amidst a public and political outcry, and without any charges being brought. The estimated total cost to taxpayers was £35million.

Roberts, who went on to become a private military contractor (PMC) in Iraq, has just released his new military memoir, Seven Point Six Two: The True Story Of Soldiers For Hire In Iraq – the first book to discuss a murder investigation from any modern war. In this exclusive article for Loaded, he describes his ordeal and anger at being “left out to dry“ for serving Queen and country.

By Gary Roberts

Soldier and private military contractor Gary Roberts with the Recce Platoon of The Rifles in Iraq. Copyright Gary Roberts 2019

It’s 2003… and some 45,000 British troops launch into Iraq for the initial phase of the Second Gulf War. As part of a larger coalition, the British and American forces sweep into the country and in less than one month Iraq is under official occupation. The war is won, but the peace is soon lost. Chaos follows. There’s no government, no law, and no effective infrastructure.

Thousands of Iraqis are dead. Thousands are displaced. Buildings lie in disrepair or ruins. And so begins the long period of military occupation and reconstruction.

Resistance gains ground. Angry insurgents use guerrilla tactics—guns, mortars, missiles, car bombs, improvised explosive devices, rocket-propelled grenades, suicide attacks—all aimed at damaging the reconstruction efforts and taking out Coalition forces and those aiding them. Their attacks claim more Coalition lives than those lost during the war. This is the war after the war; the real war. Security operations are increased in Basra. The British Army is learning on the go and learning fast, adapting to new threats and tactics daily.

I’m a young combat infantryman with the Light Infantry (now The Rifles) regiment in Basra. I’ve been on operations before, but this is the first time I’ve deployed as a section commander. For the first time I have others under me, looking to me for leadership in times of hardship. I lead from the front, and I lead by example.

Gary Roberts’ regiment, The Rifles, in Basra, Iraq. Copyright Gary Roberts 2019

I kill an insurgent on the streets of Basra. It’s my first kill. The shooting was fast and clinical: two quick bullets to the chest and the threat was neutralised. The insurgent was about to fire an AK47 at my patrol. I could see it in his eyes: it was him or us. I protected the lives around me. I led how I had been taught…

Skip forward to 2010 and the British Government has just set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team. IHAT is a unit designed to investigate alleged crimes conducted by British troops during the Iraq War. This is an unprecedented step by the Government, and it soon becomes apparent that many of these claims are dubious, at best. The false allegations of abuse and torture by British troops adds to the fury. By 2016 it soon becomes clear that the IHAT is nothing more than a witch-hunt against soldiers. The lawyers ‘investigating’ the claims have a fantastic government budget and are not afraid to use it. Enquiries are soon outsourced to private investigation companies who arrange for ‘witnesses’ to be flown out of Iraq and put up in swanky hotels in other countries, where they collaborate and have their stories written for them by the investigators. It’s a farce. And all paid for with taxpayers’ money…

It’s not just the public who are in uproar with IHAT. The British media likewise slams the investigation. “Mr Cameron MUST stop these vile witch-hunts against our brave troops,” reads s column in the Daily Mail – just one of many, many examples. Conservative politicians echo this line and David Cameron, then prime minister, promises to stop “spurious” claims. Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has criticised “unscrupulous” lawyers; Armed Forces Minister Penny Mordaunt describes these lawyers’ actions as the “enemy of justice”. After Cameron leaves office, his successor, Theresa May, goes on to lambast “activist, left-wing human rights lawyers”.

Gary Roberts was investigated by the IHAT for the confirmed killing of an armed Iraqi insurgent in 2003. Copyright Gary Roberts 2019

The IHAT investigations continue, and now it’s my turn…

By now I’ve long-since left the Army and have been working as a private military contractor (PMC) around the world, including back in Iraq. When IHAT first get in touch I’m working offshore, running armed security teams on oil tankers in hostile waters ridden with Somali pirates. I fly home on leave, back to my supposed sanctuary. But things are different now. Now I’m the enemy. The enemy of a government who sent us to a war and now want us to pay for that war; the price, my freedom.

I hire lawyers to defend me. They do their digging with the IHAT and it soon becomes apparent what the investigators want: a murder charge, and they want it to stick. I fight my corner. I did my job. and I did it well. A confirmed kill from 13 years ago has come back to haunt me, but now it’s not just me. It’s my family, my children; the very fabric of my life that’s in jeopardy. Initially I refuse to talk to the investigators but they soon up the ante. After two years hanging in the balance, they play their cards: submit to an interview under caution at a police station or face being arrested. I know this doesn’t just mean being taken away in a police car. This is a murder charge: it means armed police crashing through my door at 4am; it means my children being hauled out of bed by strangers and taken to the station.

After leaving the British Army, Gary Roberts became a private military contract. His worked included protecting oil freighters from pirates. Copyright Gary Roberts 2019

In 2017 the investigation comes to a head. It’s a freezing January morning as I enter Newbury Police Station. I greet my lawyer and we’re immediately taken through to a small private interview room. After disclosure we’re ready to start.

‘‘Gary Roberts… You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you may later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence. Do you understand?’’ My senses become heightened. I can hear my heart beating; the clock on the wall tick-tocks at a thousand decibels. How the fuck did it come to this? I feel like I’ve fallen into the sea and the waves are thrashing about me. Now I’m really in a fight. Not like Iraq or Afghanistan; this is different. I’m a soldier: it’s something I am, not something I do. They want to dismiss that. They want to make me worthless. Composure. Composure is key. It’s time to roll-up my sleeves. It’s time to do what I do best: it’s time to fight.

“And are you aware of why we’d like to talk to you today, what we want to ask you questions about?’ they continue.

I straighten up in my chair and look these pair of snakes in the eye, pause, and reply “Iraq.”

They go straight into me and keep the pressure up for the next four hours. I am asked everything under the sun. They change style and tactics every now and again; one minute praising me, then accusing me of all sorts fanciful shit.

Gary Roberts’ new book reveals the mysterious world of private military contractors. Here he is pictured on the Iraq / Syria border. Copyright Gary Roberts 2019

The interview comes to an end, but that’s not the end of it. I’m left hanging for another two years. Eventually the IHAT is disbanded and my case is referred to the SPA (Special Prosecution Service). There’s no liaison, no information. The investigation is technically over, with no charges brought. However, like with other veterans targeted by the IHAT, it’s still left suspended over my head. A future government could reactivate the investigation if it became politically expedient to do so, just as the first IHAT investigation was, ultimately, politically motivated. I’ve been left out to dry after serving my country; a mere pawn of politics. You could say that I am another form of collateral damage from the war in Iraq.

Seven Point Six Two: The True Story Of Soldiers For Hire In Iraq by Gary Roberts (Steel City Press) is out now on Amazon, priced £12.99 in paperback.

For more information, visit Steel City Press.

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