Ministers have denied a “cover-up” of alleged war crimes involving the torture and murder of innocent civilians by British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Military detectives have reportedly probed a 2012 SAS raid on a compound in Helmand Province where three “unarmed” children and a young man were shot dead, as well as the alleged “daily” abuse of prisoners by the Black Watch regiment in Basra in 2003, and the fatal shooting of an Iraqi policeman in the same year.
According to BBC Panorama and The Sunday Times, leaked documents indicate the incidents were then covered up by senior officers and only cursorily interrogated by the Royal Military Police (RMP).
Investigators on the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) and Operation Northmoor – for Afghanistan – were then put under pressure by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to wind up the inquiries, the media outlets claim.
Yesterday the government denied allegations of a cover-up, with Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab telling Andrew Marr that the prosecuting authorities for the British armed forces are “some of the most rigorous in the world”.
"All of the allegations that had evidence have been looked at by the armed forces prosecuting authorities because we want to have accountability where there’s wrongdoing,” he said.
"What we’re quite rightly doing is making sure spurious claims or claims without evidence don’t lead to the shadow of suspicion, the cloud of suspicion hanging over people who have served their country for years on end – and we’ve got the right balance."
IHAT was shut down in 2017 after it emerged that the disgraced solicitor Phil Shiner, who was behind more than 1,000 cases, paid fixers in Iraq to find clients.
But some former IHAT and Operation Northmoor investigators have now said Mr Shiner’s actions were used as an excuse to close down the inquiries.
IHAT spent around three years investigating the actions of the Black Watch in 2003, when the unit was responsible for policing and security in the Southern Iraqi city of Basra following the collapse of Saddam Hussein’s forces.
The team reportedly gathered evidence that at least two detainees were unlawfully killed amid a regime of physical and sexual violence by British troops at Camp Stephen.
Despite allegedly photographing one of the men, Radhi Nama, in hospital with injuries on his face, RMP investigators allegedly accepted the soldiers’ account that he had died of a heart attack and declined to interview their senior officers.
During the 2012 SAS raid on the village of Loy Bagh near Camp Bastion, one special forces soldier reportedly entered a side building and killed four young inhabitants.
According to the leaked documents, he told superiors he fired because they were standing up with what looked like weapons, despite bullet marks on the walls suggesting they were all sitting when shot.
The documents allege a senior SAS commander later emailed International Security Assistance Force headquarters describing the raid as Afghan-led, thereby avoiding an immediate RMP probe.
Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, described the decision to wind up the inquiries as “absolutely reprehensible”, suggesting the allegations could be investigated by the International Criminal Court.
However, Hilary Meredith, visiting professor of law and veterans’ affairs at the University of Chester, who has represented several soldiers investigated by IHAT, said: “This so-called new evidence has no credibility whatsoever.
“It is flawed, baseless and biased.”
An MoD spokesman said: "Allegations that the MoD interfered with investigations or prosecution decisions relating to the conduct of UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are untrue.
"Throughout the process the decisions of prosecutors and the investigators have been independent of the MoD and involved external oversight and legal advice."