Retired British geologist jailed for 15 years in Iraq for smuggling artefacts

6 June 2022, 12:36

Jim Fitton (left) with Wolker Waldmann
Jim Fitton (left) with Wolker Waldmann. Picture: Alamy

By Will Taylor

A British father has been jailed for 15 years in Iraq for trying to take artefacts out of the country.

Jim Fitton, a retired geologist from Bath, had picked up 12 stones and shards of broken pottery during a visit to the Middle Eastern country.

Authorities said they could be considered archaeological pieces because they date back more than 200 years, and he was arrested alongside a German tourist Volker Waldmann in March after airport security found the items among their luggage.

Mr Fitton’s son-in-law, Sam Tasker, said the 66-year-old’s jail term was “tantamount to a death sentence” and said the British Government had engaged in a "total lack of action in this case to date".

"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," Mr Tasker said.

"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.

The 27-year-old added: "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."

Jim Fitton (left) with Wolker Waldmann
Jim Fitton (left) with Wolker Waldmann. Picture: Alamy

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, 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.”

Ms Hobhouse is expected to raise the case as a matter of urgency.

Read More: British geologist risks facing death penalty 'for smuggling Iraqi artefacts'

During the same hearing, German tourist Mr Waldmann who was was found not to have criminal intent in the case and will be released.

Mr Fitton’s sentence appeared to have shocked those in the court, including his defence lawyer who later said he thought he would get a year suspended sentence.

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.

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

A petition started by his family has garnered more than 100,000 signatures.