Seven British soldiers on patrol in southern Iraq killed an innocent teenager in a "gratuitously violent" attack using rifle butts, helmets, fists and feet, a court heard yesterday.

Another man was allegedly knocked out and a woman who had given birth only three days before was said to have been struck in the face.

The seven men, all members of the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, acted together as part of a "joint enterprise" during the attack in May 2003, a military court in Colchester, Essex, was told.

Corporal Scott Evans (32), and Privates Billy Nerney (24); Samuel May (25); Morne Vosloo (26); Daniel Harding (25); Roberto Di-Gregorio (24) and Scott Jackson (26), all deny murder and violent disorder.

The servicemen, whose addresses cannot be given for security reasons, were charged following the death of 18-year-old Nadhem Abdullah on May 11 2003, after he was injured in an attack by the roadside in the village of Ferkah, near Al U'Zayra, near Basra.

The seven-strong military panel, which will act as the jury in the court martial, was due to visit the site in Iraq this week.

But Judge Jeff Blackett ruled the trip should be postponed, and possibly cancelled, due to the ongoing security situation in Iraq.

Martin Heslop QC, prosecuting, told the court the attack had taken place three weeks after "formal hostilities" ceased.

He said the men were members of a section of a platoon from the 3rd Battalion and were on patrol in the area.

Evans was in command of the section and travelling in one vehicle, while second-incommand May was being driven in a second vehicle.

Mr Heslop said the patrol was in pursuit of a white vehicle when they passed a white Toyota being driven by Athar Finnjan Saddam. The murder victim was travelling in the front of the Toyota, which also contained two brothers and three women.

As the truck turned into the village and drew to a stop, it was boxed in by the British soldiers, the court heard.

"At this point the deceased and the driver were dragged from the vehicle and made to lie face down on the ground and then assaulted by the soldiers using their fists, their feet, their helmets and their rifles," said Mr Heslop.

"The men did little more than simply lie there suffering the blows."

It was at this point that the woman who had just given birth, Dalal Sadaam, got out of the Toyota truck to stop the fight and was struck on the mouth.

Mr Abdullah was hit about the body and suffered a serious injury to the head, while Mr Saddam also suffered blows to the body, the court heard.

During the "unjustified and totally unprovoked attack" a dog which started barking was shot dead. Mr Heslop said that was the only shot fired throughout the incident.

"The soldiers then kicked and targeted the Toyota and finally slashed or let the tyres down," he said. "This is not a case of soldiers responding to an attack nor being required to defend themselves in an operational engagement."

The seven soldiers were interviewed twice - in November 2003 and May 2004.

Most claimed not to remember the alleged confrontation, but Vosloo and Di-Gregorio both referred to the incident in brief. Harding, Di-Gregorio and Jackson are no longer in the Army but are technically classed as servicemen for the purposes of the hearing.

Lawyers estimate that the trial will last for more than two months.

Evidence is being heard by a civilian judge and a sevenstrong panel of servicemen and women which acts as a jury.

The hearing was adjourned until Monday.