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Jim Fitton: Briton to be freed from Iraqi jail after antiques smuggling conviction quashed, family say

Written by on 26 July 2022

A retired British geologist will be freed from an Iraqi jail after his conviction for attempted artefact smuggling was quashed, according to his family.

Jim Fitton was jailed 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 taking part in an organised geology and archaeology tour and his family said he had asked an experienced guide if he could take the objects home.

Iraqi officials later claimed the items could be considered archaeological pieces as they were more than 200 years old.

Mr Fitton said he “suspected” the items were ancient fragments but said there was no signage at the site or information provided to inform him that taking them was against the law.

He was initially held in an airport detention centre after his arrest and has been in an Iraqi prison since the second week of June.

A selection of the confiscated illegal stones Image: A selection of the confiscated stones

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 to carry.

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 are “over the moon” after hearing that he has now been cleared.

Mr Tasker, 27, said in a statement: “For the first time since March 20th, Leila, Josh, Sarijah and I are smiling without irony.

Joshua, Sarijah, Jim and Leila Fitton Image: Fitton with his wife, Sarijah, and two children Joshua and Leila

“We were informed this morning that the appeals court has decided to quash the verdict of the Felony Court, to fully recognise Jim’s innocence in this case, and to process his immediate release from a 15-year prison sentence in Baghdad.

“We understand that this process is under way – he is still in prison this evening but will soon be released.

“We will not be doing any press interviews or elaborating at all about the situation until he is home, as we don’t want to inflame the wrong groups or put him at any risk.

“Once he is home, we will celebrate and take some time to recover as a family, and will be happy to tell the story to anyone who will listen.”

Mr Tasker said the family “expect him to be home by the end of the week” although the timeline remains unclear.

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, welcomed the “fantastic development”.

“It is impossible to imagine the stress that Jim and his family have endured over the past few months,” she said.

The souvenirs were collected from a site in Eridu, southeast Iraq Image: The souvenirs were collected from a site in Eridu, southeast Iraq

“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. This has been an incredibly anxious time and the government should consider how to improve the way they respond to these cases in the first instance.

“This is 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 continue to support his family. We are in contact with the local authorities.”