Retired British geologist, 66, is sentenced to 15 years in Iraqi jail

Retired British geologist, 66, is sentenced in Iraq to 15 years in prison for trying to ‘smuggle’ ancient pottery pieces out of the country despite his lawyer fearing the worst-case scenario would be ONE YEAR

  • Jim Fitton handed jail term ‘beyond worst case scenario’ for smuggling pottery
  • Items dating back more than 200 years found on Fitton and German friend
  • Fitton’s charge carried maximum death penalty – but only one year was expected
  • Visibly shaken lawyer said he thought the jail term would also be suspended 

A British retired geologist will spend 15 years in an Iraqi jail after he was convicted of trying to smuggle antique pottery.

Jim Fitton, 66, was found guilty of intending to take the 200-year-old artefacts out of Baghdad in March.

Judge Jabir Abd Jabir found that, by picking up the items and intending to transport them out of the country, Fitton had criminal intent to smuggle them.

Mr Fitton’s son-in-law, Sam Tasker, said this morning: ‘We are absolutely shattered by this news. 

‘For a man of Jim’s age, 15 years in an Iraqi prison is tantamount to a death sentence. 

Jim Fitton (left) was sentenced this morning of trying to smuggle antique pottery out of Iraq

Mr Fitton (centre) and Volker Waldman (right) appear in court outside Baghdad last month

‘Particularly for such a trivial and dubious crime, a crime that Jim was not even aware of when he perpetrated it.

‘We are completely heartbroken that our own best efforts, a strong legal defence and constant campaigning have led to this outcome. We are disappointed, indeed stunned, at our own government’s total lack of action in this case to date. 

‘We are raising an appeal and will continue to fight for Jim’s freedom, and urge the government to support us in every way possible and to open lines of communication with us at a senior level.

Volker Waldman, a German national, was arrested alongside Mr Fitton in Baghdad on March 20.

Fitton’s family grew worried when he did not arrive on a scheduled flight back to Kuala Lumpur, where he resides with his wife. 

Mr Fitton (left) and Mr Waldman (right) are pictured from behind as they entered court today

He was cleared of criminal intent and will now be released.

The German said the two items found in his possession were not his and were given to him by Fitton to carry.

Father-of-two Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting an ancient site in Eridu, southern Iraq, as part of an archaeology tour.

Mr Fitton’s stunned lawyer expected the sentence to be a maximum of one year behind bars – and a suspended sentence.

Thair Soud, visibly shocked moments after the sentencing, told AP:  ‘I thought the worst case scenario would be one year, with suspension.’

The lawyer for Mr Fitton (second from right) thought a one-year term was worst-case scenario

Mr Soud said he intents to appeal the sentence immediately. 

It is not clear if Fitton can serve out his sentence in his home country. 

This would require a bilateral agreement between Iraq and the UK.

The family of the retired geologist expressed concerns about his wellbeing in an Iraq jail (Mr Fitton is pictured in a holiday selfie)

The case garnered attention when, frustrated by perceived inaction on the part of the British Foreign Office to intervene and assist in Fitton’s case, his family started a petition that has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.

The British diplomatic mission in Baghdad has not commented on its involvement in the case.

Bath MP Wera Hobhouse said: ‘This is clearly a devastating outcome for Jim and his family. There is now no other option but for the Foreign Secretary to intervene at a Ministerial level. 

‘The Foreign Secretary must make representations to the Iraqi Government. 

‘This is yet another example of the British Government presiding over a case of a British national in trouble abroad and they have failed to take action.’

The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office was not immediately available for comment after a request by MailOnline.

The judge did not consider Mr Soud’s arguments that laid out Fitton’s ignorance of Iraqi laws and the value of the items he pitched up. 

Mr Fitton and the German national, Volker Waldman, were arrested in Baghdad airport after security staff discovered the items in their luggage. 

They had been part of a tourism expedition across the country’s ancient sites. 

Their case has received international attention at a time when Iraq hopes to boost its nascent tourism sector.

Waldman’s defense team has said the German tourist had been carrying the pieces for Fitton but that he did not pick them up from the site.

Under a 2002 antiquity law, Mr Fitton faced a maximum sentence of the death penalty.

But officials said that was only a remote possibility.

Last month Mr Fitton’s son-in-law said the family are all ‘struggling immensely’ after the trial faced a series of postponements.

Sam Tasker, 27, said: ‘Obviously we’re just trying to get Jim home safe and sound as quickly as possible.

Fitton (right) pictured with daughter Leila (left) and wife Sarijah (centre) on holiday in Asia 

Fitton is pictured sitting in the backseat alongside family members in this undated photo

‘Every setback we get cuts us all deeply, and another two-week delay to the verdict just leaves us all in limbo for longer.

‘The family are all struggling immensely with the uncertainty and our constant fear for Jim’s life.

‘And two more weeks in a holding cell for Jim, bringing him to ten weeks in detention in total, is worrying given his age.’

Ms Hobhouse said in May: ‘I am thinking of Jim again today and his family who have been through so much. Another two weeks in a holding cell is a cruel ordeal that should have been avoided.’

Mr Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah. 

Fitton is pictured with Waldman and a court clerk outside the Baghdad courthouse last month

This morning the pair appeared in court, where Fitton was sentenced and Waldman cleared

His daughter Leila, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker are based in Bath.

Ms Hobhouse added: ‘Jim and his family have shown incredible resolve and strength over this whole ordeal, and I hope that they receive the support they need over the next two weeks.

‘This situation could have been avoided if the Foreign Office acted earlier. We’ve all accepted that the Foreign Office will be offering no further help to Jim and his family.

German national Volker Waldman (pictured on May 15) said the responsibility was Mr Fitton’s

‘The focus is now on the new date on June 6. 

‘In the meantime, I will keep exploring avenues and reaching out to the Foreign Office in the hope of finding some answers.’

The Foreign Office had said it cannot interfere with the judicial process of another country and made clear its opposition to the death penalty.

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