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British geologist faces death penalty

A British man is facing the death penalty after attempting to ‘smuggle’ historic artefacts from Iraq.

Jim Fitton, a retired geologist, had been visiting historical locations across the country with a tour group.

Fragments of broken pottery had been found scattered on the ground at one of their stops, an archaeological site in Eridu.

Tour leaders told the group it would be safe to pocket the shards.

But, according to Mr Fitton’s family, he was instead detained and is to go on trial in a matter of weeks.

They have called for the UK government to intervene and arrange for his release.

The 66-year-old’s children, Joshua and Leila, wrote in an online petition: ‘We think that our father may be put on trial the week commencing May 8, after Eid in Iraq.

‘We have days to save him before sentencing and we need the Foreign Office to help by intervening in his case now.

‘Our lawyer has drafted a proposal for cessation of the case and the immediate repatriation of our father, which requires the backing of the Foreign Office to put to the Iraqi judiciary.’

Retired geologist Jim Fitton, with his wife Sarijah Fitton and his daughter Leila Fitton (Picture: PA)

Mr Tasker, Leila’s husband, in a statement, added: ‘Jim would often bring home small souvenirs from his trips to remember the journey by and share his experiences with us.

“To him this was no more significant than bringing home a small stone from the beach to remember a special family holiday. The items are widely agreed to be valueless.

‘This is the offence that now sees my father-in-law facing a potential death sentence under article 41 of the Iraqi artefacts law no.55, of 2002.’

A German man, who had visited Eridu with the same group on March 10, has reportedly been arrested.

An online petition has been launched by the 66-year-old’s anxious family (Picture: PA)

Wera Hobhouse, MP for Bath, has raised the issue in the House of Commons on behalf of her constituents Mr and Mrs Tasker.

She said: ‘The situation surrounding Jim Fitton and his German counterpart is deeply worrying and my thoughts are with them and their families during this difficult period.

‘From speaking with Jim’s family it is clear that he would not intentionally disrespect or appropriate the rich and fascinating culture of the region.

‘I have written to the Foreign Office, been in touch with the consulate support services, and contacted the minister’s office directly but so far the response has been disappointing.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office spokesman said consular support was being provided to Iraq and officials had already been in contact with local authorities in the country.

Foreign Office minister Amanda Milling, in a letter to Ms Hobhouse on Thursday, said: ‘We understand the urgency of the case, and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities regarding the possible imposition of the death penalty in Mr Fitton’s case and the UK’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle.’

The online petition calling for Mr Fitton’s release had amassed 1,591 signatures by 10am this morning.

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