A retired geologist at risk of being executed in Iraq said sorry to his family for missing his daughter’s wedding. Bath man Jim Fitton was “heartbroken” he couldn’t give her away on her special day.
The 66-year-old instead had to make do with photographs of the celebrations. He remains locked up in Iraq, with Bath’s MP accusing the Foreign Office of “abandoning” him.
His daughter Leila, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker, 27, held a small ceremony – which was restricted to close friends and British family due to Covid – in their home city of Bath, Somerset, last August. A larger bash with TV and film art department freelancer Leila’s extended family in Malaysia, where her father and mother Sarijah also live, took place on Friday and Sunday.
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But Mr Fitton, who has lived in Malaysia for years but is originally from Bath, was forced to miss out – with his family expecting court proceedings against him to begin in Iraq this week. He was detained after collecting stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in the country’s south-east, during an organized geology and archeology tour in March, according to his family.
They said the items were later judged to be artefacts under Iraqi law and the charge leveled at Mr Fitton states “whoever exported or intended to export, deliberately, an antiquity, from Iraq, shall be punishable with execution”. The family has renewed its appeal for Foreign Office ministers to help free the father-of-two, with a petition collecting more than 124,000 signatures. Supporters have also written letters to MPs in a bid to increase the pressure on the Foreign Office.
Jim Fitton’s wedding day message to daughter
Speaking to the PA news agency, Mr Tasker said of his father-in-law: “He wasn’t able to give Leila away; her brother had to kind of step up and give her away. He was obviously heartbroken and just sent us a message saying, ‘You all look great. best of luck All my love to you all.’”
He said Mr Fitton, “as he has been doing throughout”, has been “putting on a brave face and trying not to make it about him, really, which is antithetical to the point because all we’re thinking about is him”. He added: “We sent him some photos across and he remarked that the house looked amazing, because Leila’s mum put a load of work into making the house look nice and getting the flowers and all the rest of it arranged and set up.”
(Image: The Fitton family)
He continued: “He apologised for not being there as well, which is obviously out of his control. He seems to be doing OK and I think it was kind of a bittersweet moment for him really; it’s lovely to see the photos and everything but he’d prefer to be with us, of course.”
Mr Tasker, who works in sales support for an outsourcing company, said a “keep calm and carry on” approach was adopted for the celebrations. He also said: “We are just doing everything we can to get political engagement from Foreign Office ministers, really.”
Foreign Office must act ‘before it’s too late’ to save Jim Fitton
Mr Tasker praised the support from the UK embassy staff in Iraq but said they have “one hand tied behind their back by political decision-making”. He added: “That’s what we need to change and that’s what we continue to push for.”
The family is “grateful” for the support its campaign has received, Mr Tasker added. He said: “We just need to reach a critical mass of pressure on the Foreign Office before it’s too late. It’s a shame that we have to approach it in that way but it is what it is. So we continue to push because we can’t do anything else – and we’re not giving up.”
Foreign Office Minister Amanda Milling has previously said the UK has “raised (its) 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 principles”.
Wera Hobhouse, the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, said: “At the end of the day the Foreign Office is still abandoning Jim. I cannot understand why they are still refusing to help Jim.” Ms Hobhouse added: “I will be using all of the avenues I can to pressure the Foreign Office to intervene.”