A retired British geologist facing the death penalty in Iraq for smuggling historic items out of the country has said he didn’t realise he was breaking the law.
66-year-old Jim Fitton has been accused by the middle eastern ccountry of taking 12 stones and shards of broken pottery he had found at an archaelogical site in Eridu.
Fitton and German national Volker Waldmann were travelling as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour, when the items were discovered on them as they prepared to fly out of Iraq in March, The Independent reports.
Appearing in a Baghdad courtroom alongside Volker Waldmann, Fitton told a panel of judges that he hadn’t acted with criminal intent.
He admitted that he had ‘suspected’ the items were ancient fragments, but stated that he ‘at the time didn’t know about Iraqi laws’, or that taking the shards was not permitted.
To back himself up, he said it was unclear that taking the pieces could’ve been seen as a criminal offence, given there ‘there were fences, no guards or signage’.
As a geologist, Fitton said he often collected fragments of interest as a hobby but without the intention of ever selling them.
However, the head judge of the three-judge panel said the nature of the site he took the fragments from was enough evidence that such an act was prohibited.
Judge Jaber Abdel Jabi said: “These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden.”
He also stated that ‘size doesn’t matter’ when the Brit put it to him that some of the fragments were ‘no longer than my fingernail’.
Waldmann said the two artefacts that had been found among his own belongings were not his, saying instead they had been given to him to carry by his fellow traveller, Fitton.
The pair now face another hearing on May 22, when it’ll be determined if they were planning to profit from the items.
The highest punishment they could face would be the death penalty – although legal experts have stressed that this would be unlikely.
Fitton’s lawyers are planning to submit more evidence, including some from government officials present at the archaeological site where the fragments were taken.
It read: “Whilst on the tour, our father visited historical sites around Iraq, where his tour group found fragments of stones and shards of broken pottery in piles on the ground.
“Tour members were told that this would not be an issue, as the broken shards had no economic or historical value.”
MPs did end up discussing his case in the House of Commons last week, with Foreign Minister James Cleverly saying that the British ambassador in Iraq had raised the case four times with the country’s authorities.