A trial of seven British soldiers accused of murdering an Iraqi teenager, which has cost taxpayers an estimated #10 million, collapsed today after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to secure a conviction.
The soldiers, all members of the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, have been found not guilty of murder and violent disorder.
The soldiers were standing trial accused of murdering 18-year-old Nadhem Abdullah in an attack on a group of Iraqi civilians in al-Ferkah, 60 miles north of Basra, in May 2003.
Judge Advocate General Jeff Blackett today directed the military panel hearing the court martial in Colchester, Essex, to clear the defendants of all seven charges against them.
He said: "In relation to all the defendants, after discarding the evidence that is too inherently weak or vague for any sensible person to rely on it, prosecution evidence taken at its highest is such that a reasonable jury or court martial board properly directed could never reach the high standard of proof required to be sure of the guilt of any defendant.
"In those circumstances it is my duty to remove the case from the board now and direct that they return verdicts of not guilty to the charge of murder against all seven defendants."
During the trial Martin Heslop QC, prosecuting, told the court that Mr Abdullah was an "innocent" teenager who died after being subject to a gratuitously violent attack during which the paratroopers used their rifle buts, helmets, fists and feet.
The attack was said to have taken place three weeks after "formal hostilities" had ceased.
Mr Heslop said the paratroopers were in pursuit of a white pick-up truck when the passed a white Toyota containing Mr Abdullah and Athar Saddam.
The Toyota, a taxi taking a number of passengers to a market, turned into the village and drew to a stop and was then boxed in by the soldiers, he said.
"The deceased and the driver were dragged out of the taxi," said Mr Heslop.
"They were made to lie down on the ground and were hit by the soldiers who used their feet, fists, helmets and rifles. The men did little but lie there."
He said a woman who witnessed the assault and tried to intervene was struck in the mouth by one of the soldiers and a dog that came out and barked was shot by a paratrooper.
Mr Abdullah was alleged to have died as a result of a "gratuitous", "unjustified" and "unprovoked" attack.
The court heard that blood matching the dead man's DNA was found in a screw recess on Private Samuel May's rifle.
The cleared soldiers are Corporal Scott Evans, 32, Private Billy Nerney, 24, Samuel May, 25, Morne Vosloo, 26, Daniel Harding, 25, Roberto Di-Gregorio and Scott Jackson, 26.
More on this story in Friday's Birmingham Post