- top lawyer says majority of legal claims against troops have no foundation
- Attorney General Jeremy Wright says witch-hunt is 'out of our control'
- But he said claims against British soldiers still have to be investigated
Attorney General Jeremy Wright (pictured) said the 'vast majority' of legal claims against troops are without foundation
The 'vast majority' of legal claims against troops are without foundation, the government's top lawyer admitted yesterday.
Attorney General Jeremy Wright said a legal witch-hunt against British troops is 'out of our control', but insisted claims against soldiers still have to be investigated despite a disgraced lawyer's downfall.
The Attorney General told MPs: 'I am perfectly prepared to say I am convinced that at the end of this process the vast, vast majority of allegations will be found to be baseless.
'I do not dispute for a moment how difficult this process is and how frustrating it is that it is taking this long. It really should not.'
Speaking to an inquiry into the drummed-up cases against British soldiers who served in Iraq, he said he had never before seen law firms generate claims on such a scale.
He also suggested heavy-handed detectives employed to probe murder allegations could face criminal charges for turning up at barracks and allegedly pretending to be police.
His brutal verdict came after law firm Public Interest Lawyers shut down in August this year after it was stripped of legal aid.
Lawyer Phil Shiner, who was behind the firm, has made his career suing the British government at taxpayers' expense. He is facing a criminal probe and a professional disciplinary tribunal next year.
His firm handed over 1,100 claims of wrongdoing by British troops to the Iraq Historical Allegations Team (Ihat).
The £57million probe is currently looking at 1,666 claims in total.
His brutal verdict came after law firm Public Interest Lawyers shut down in August, pictured is Phil Shiner, who was behind the firm
Soldiers hoped that the closure of PIL would have stopped them being dragged before detectives working for Ihat.
But yesterday Mr Wright admitted: 'We cannot shut up shop.'
He said he understood that soldiers were going through a 'horrendous' experience.
But in a defence sub-committee hearing he added: 'Part of it is out of our control, part of it is about the flow into the system as much as the way you manage things once they are there.'
He said cases handed to them by PIL still had to scrutinised to weed out those that were baseless.
He said: 'We can't assume, much as we might like to, that everything he brought to us is false.
'The obligation to investigate still exists even if it came from Mr Shiner and his company.
'What hasn't yet been demonstrated is every single one of the cases is not genuine.'
He admitted: 'We are back I'm afraid to the same problem of sorting the wheat from the chaff.
'Even if a large proportion of the cases he brought to us are fake, false, do not have any merit at all, working out which they are, assuming Mr Shiner isn't going to tell us, would still require an investigatory process.'
Detectives working for Ihat have been accused of turning up out of the blue at military bases and threatening soldiers with arrest – even though they do not have the powers.
Asked about this, Mr Wright said: 'Impersonating a police officer is a criminal offence and if that is what has happened then I have no doubt that that those who will pursue that type of offending ought to do so.'
He said it was a 'source of deep frustration' that the Government had to investigate soldiers over incidents that happened a decade ago.
He added: 'I don't think it is fair to say that in 2010 anyone expected that IHAT in 2016 would be dealing with the volume of cases it is now dealing with.
'The way in which these particular firms were generating workload in a way that I don't think has ever been seen before in any other context.'
It also emerged that some of the claims submitted to Ihat were just three lines long, with very minimal details about the crime that allegedly took place.
Tory MP Johnny Mercer, who set up the inquiry, blasted: 'It comes across to the untrained as completely insane.'
Chair of the defence select committee, Dr Julian Lewis. said: 'If these people had operated the system with even a modicum of good sense and discrimination many of the soldiers wouldn't have been put through this.'