A retired British geologist facing the death penalty for attempting to smuggle ancient artefacts out of Iraq faces a further two weeks in a holding cell after his trial was postponed by an Iraqi court.
Both Jim Fitton, 66, and co-accused German tourist Volker Waldmann were escorted into the courtroom wearing stark yellow jumpsuits as the family of Fitton hoped judges would come to a decision during a second court hearing today.
Instead they will now have to wait until June 6 after Baghdad’s felony court postponed the case following a request by the defence team for Waldmann.
Both men were arrested at Baghdad airport on March 20 with fragmented shards of Iraqi antiquities in their possession as they tried to leave the country.
It was reported Waldmann’s defence lawyer, Furat Kubba, argued more information was needed about the historical significance of the 12 items found in their possession, which Iraqi officials have said could be considered as archaeological pieces as they date back more than 200 years.
Mr Fitton’s son-in-law Sam Tasker said the hearing was delayed to June 6 due to unknown ‘paperwork issues’.
‘It’s not really bad news, but it’s another two weeks of waiting for all of us, and detention for Jim, because of some admin issue’.
Jim Fitton of Britain, centre, and Volker Waldmann of Germany, right, wear yellow detainees’ uniforms and are escorted handcuffed by Iraqi security forces outside a courtroom in Baghdad, Iraq
Retired British geologist Jim Fitton, 66, who has been detained in Iraq. The retired British geologist accused of artefact smuggling suspected the items were ancient but had no idea he was breaking Iraqi laws, a court has heard
The trial was delayed by another two weeks over apparent ‘paperwork issues’ as Waldmann’s legal team requested more time
This is now the second time that Jim’s hearing has been postponed – following a previous week-long delay for a hearing set initially on 15 May to 22 May – the reason being to allow the defence more time to submit evidence.
The judge had told the accused on that occasion that they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of ‘intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity’.
Tasker, 27, from Bath, says the family are all ‘struggling immensely’ with the delays and lack of knowledge on the situation.
He added: ‘Obviously we’re just trying to get Jim home safe and sound as quickly as possible.
‘Every setback we get cuts us all deeply, and another two-week delay to the verdict just leaves us all in limbo for longer.
‘The family are all struggling immensely with the uncertainty and our constant fear for Jim’s life.
‘And two more weeks in a holding cell for Jim, bringing him to ten weeks in detention in total, is worrying given his age.
His family say that he has been accused of stealing fragments that were in the open at Eridu, an ancient ruin of a city that is found in Iraq, and was once in southern Mesopotamia
Retired British geologist James Graham Fitton with his wife and two kids Joshua and Leila who have set up a petition to press the UK government to act
‘We don’t know what his mental condition is, but he seems to be holding up – that can’t last forever though.
‘For now, we will all continue to endure’.
Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse, who represents Fitton’s family based in her Bath constituency, said: ‘This is a frustrating outcome for Jim and his family. Another two weeks of waiting.
‘I am thinking of Jim again today and his family who have been through so much. Another two weeks in a holding cell is a cruel ordeal that should have been avoided.’
Father-of-two Fitton collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, an ancient Mesopotamian city in southern Iraq, as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour.
Both he and Waldmann were arrested after the items were found in their possession as their group prepared to fly out of Baghdad airport on March 20.
Waldmann said the two items found in his possession were not his and instead had been given to him by Fitton to carry.
Fitton is pictured sitting in the backseat alongside his family in this undated photo
Both defendants could face the death penalty, according to Iraqi law, but it has been suggested such an outcome is unlikely.
Fitton insisted he had not acted with criminal intent and had no idea he was breaking Iraqi laws during his first court appearance earlier this month.
He lives in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah while his daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker are based in Bath, Somerset.
Ms Hobhouse said: ‘Jim and his family have shown incredible resolve and strength over this whole ordeal, and I hope that they receive the support they need over the next two weeks.
‘This situation could have been avoided if the Foreign Office acted earlier. We’ve all accepted that the Foreign Office will be offering no further help to Jim and his family.
‘The focus is now on the new date on June 6. In the meantime, I will keep exploring avenues and reaching out to the Foreign Office in the hope of finding some answers.’
The Foreign Office has said it cannot interfere with the judicial process of another country and has made clear its opposition to the death penalty.