British geologist Jim Fitton, who faces the death penalty in Iraq, ‘did not know he broke the law’

Jim Fitton, 66, collected 12 rocks and potsherds as souvenirs

Jim Fitton, 66, collected 12 rocks and potsherds as souvenirs

A retired British geologist who faces the death penalty in Iraq for trying to smuggle artifacts out of the country said he had no idea he was breaking the law.

Jim Fitton, 66, collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu as part of an organized geology and archeology tour.

The father of two appeared with German tourist Volker Waldmann in a yellow prison uniform before a judges’ panel in Baghdad on Sunday.

The items were found in the couple’s possession as their group prepared to depart Baghdad Airport on March 20.

The men told the court that they had not acted with criminal intent.

Fitton said he “suspects” the items he collected were ancient fragments.

But he told the court “at the time I didn’t know anything about Iraqi law” or that taking the shards was not allowed.

FILE - This undated photo provided by the Fitton family shows Jim Fiitton with his wife Sarijah. Fitton, a British national accused by Iraq of collecting small archaeological fragments, will appear in court on Sunday on possible death penalty charges, his lawyer in Baghdad said on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Fitton family via AP, file)

Jim Fiitton with his wife Sarijah Fitton (Image: AP)

Jim Fitton, center left, and Volker Waldmann, center right, walk handcuffed outside a courtroom in Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday May 15, 2022. Fitton, of Britain, and Waldmann, a German, tourists accused of smuggling out ancient relics believed to be from Iraq, had a tense day in court on Sunday as both pleaded innocence before judges who questioned their intent and the size of the items taken. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The court heard Mr Fitton had a habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and had no intention of selling them (Image: AP)

The court heard that Mr Fitton had a habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and because of his background as a geologist had no intention of selling them.

But stressing he didn’t realize picking up from site was a criminal offence, he said of the sites: “There were fences, no guards or signage.”

Chief Justice Jaber Abdel Jabir replied: “These sites are ancient sites by name and definition.

“You don’t have to say it’s forbidden.”

When Fitton said some of the shards were “no bigger than my fingernail,” the chief justice said that was irrelevant, noting, “Size doesn’t matter.”

Waldmann said the two items found in his possession did not belong to him and were instead given to him by Mr Fitton to carry.

FILE PHOTO - Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife and two children Joshua and Leila, who have submitted a petition to urge the UK government to act. See SWNS story SWBRsmuggle. The family of Brit, who faces the death penalty in Iraq for collecting

Jim’s family holds onto hope that he will return home (Image: SWNS)

FILE PHOTO - Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife and two children Joshua and Leila, who have submitted a petition to urge the UK government to act. See SWNS story SWBRsmuggle. The family of Brit, who faces the death penalty in Iraq for collecting

Thousands of people have signed a petition for Jim’s release (Image: SWNS)

The three-judge panel of the Baghdad Criminal Court has scheduled a second hearing for May 22 and the court must determine whether the accused attempted to profit by taking the items.

Both men could face the death penalty under Iraqi law, but it has been suggested that such an outcome is unlikely.

Mr Fitton’s family today said they remain hopeful he will return “soon, safe and sound”.

His son-in-law Sam Tasker, 27, who lives in Bath, Somerset, said: “We note that the judge has postponed the hearing until next weekend; We continue to hope that Jim continues to be able to articulate well as we believe his innocence is evident.

Undated family photo of (left to right) Jim???'s wife Sarijah Fitton, son-in-law Sam Tasker, daughter Leila Fitton and son Joshua Fitton. Jim Fitton, 66, was sent the photo of the celebrations of Leila and her husband Sam Tasker while he remains detained in Iraq on charges of smuggling artifacts. Issue date: Sunday May 8, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Geologist. Photo credit should read: Family Handout/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This Handout photo may be used for editorial reporting purposes only to simultaneously illustrate events, things or people in the photo or facts mentioned in the photo caption. Reuse of the image may require further permission from the copyright owner.

Left to right: Jim’s wife Sarijah Fitton, son-in-law Sam Tasker, daughter Leila Fitton and son Joshua Fitton (Image: PA)

BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE Undated family photo of retired British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, who is imprisoned in Iraq. The retired British geologist accused of smuggling artifacts suspected the items were ancient but had no idea he was breaking Iraqi law, a court has heard. Mr Fitton, 66, and German tourist Volker Waldmann told judges they had not acted with criminal intent when they appeared in yellow prisoner uniforms before a court in Baghdad on Sunday. Issue date: Sunday May 15, 2022. PA Photo. Father-of-two Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, southeast Iraq, as part of an organized geology and archeology tour. The items were found in the couple's possession as their group prepared to depart Baghdad Airport on March 20. The three-judge panel of the Baghdad Criminal Court has scheduled a second hearing for May 22 and the court must determine whether the defendants had filed an application to benefit from the items. See PA story POLITICS Geologist. Photo credit should read: Family Handout/PA Wire NOTE TO EDITORS: This handout photo may be used for editorial reporting purposes only to simultaneously illustrate events, things or people in the photo or facts mentioned in the photo caption. Reuse of the image may require further permission from the copyright owner.

Jim’s family said they had given up hope that the Foreign Office would help them (Image: PA)

“We hope he returns to us soon, safe and sound, so that we can all recover in peace from this horrific ordeal.”

Mr Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah, while his daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker live in Bath, Somerset.

Her petition, urging UK ministers to intervene to free Fitton, has garnered more than 271,000 signatures.

The case was also raised in the House of Commons during an Urgent Question Hour last week.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the British ambassador to Iraq had raised the case with Iraqi authorities four times.

But Mr Tasker said the family still have not spoken to any UK ministers about the case, adding: “We are focused on the process and are no longer actively lobbying for the Foreign Office to intervene as it feels like a lost one thing feels.”

The defense plans to present more evidence to acquit the men, Mr Fitton’s defense attorney Thair Soud told the Associated Press.

He said this includes evidence from government officials who were present at the site where the fragments were collected

“(Their evidence) is awaiting approval from their official directorates,” he told the news outlet.

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, representing Bath constituency, said: “I am delighted that the judge has postponed the hearing to allow additional evidence to be presented.

“Jim’s family has accepted that they will not receive any further assistance from the Foreign Office and are now fully focused on the process.”

She added: “The Foreign Office has set a dangerous precedent for British citizens finding themselves in difficulty abroad and I hope they commit to a thorough review of how the Foreign Office responds to such situations in the future.”

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https://metro.co.uk/2022/05/16/british-geologist-jim-fitton-facing-death-penalty-in-iraq-didnt-know-hed-broken-the-law-16655339/ British geologist Jim Fitton, who faces the death penalty in Iraq, 'did not know he broke the law'

Justin Scacco

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