Sunday, 23 June 2013

10 YEARS ON – RMP’S STILL CRY

It’s been 10 years since six Royal Military Policemen were brutally murdered in a desolate out-post in the desert wastes of Iraq.

  • Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell, 41, from Surrey
  • Corporal Russell Aston, 30, from Derbyshire
  • Corporal Paul Long, 24, from South Shields
  • Corporal Simon Miller, 21, from Washington
  • Lance Corporal Ben Hyde, 23, from North Yorkshire
  • Lance Corporal Tom Keys, 20, from North Wales



10 years on, their killers are going about their lives with memories of what happened that fateful day etched deep into their hearts and souls.

Majar al-Kabir, South of Iraq
The theater of War turns people into monsters. One neighbour can inflict torture on the other if the circumstances are right. It’s a horrible truth to admit but humans can be as wild and brutal as any other earthly creature.

10 years ago with the Iraqi occupation in full swing, the British Army command followed the American example in Baghdad, and approved an aggressive search and retrieve weapons policy.

Against this backdrop, the six RMP’s whose names will be remembered forever by their Corp, found themselves in an isolated police station on the outskirts of Majar al-Kabir, in the south of Iraq.

They were there to train Iraqis to police their own community.

At first the British soldiers were greeted as liberators, as the Shia city had suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's rule.

The problems started when they went to collect weapons.

On the Monday morning British troops started aggressive searches of homes. As in most Iraq, almost everybody is armed. Bearing arms is seen as a fundamental part of life, and a must have necessity in this time of uncertainly for their country.

The Iraqi people pride themselves on their honour and traditions. Having filthy desert trailing soldiers burst through their homes, shouting, pointing guns, up turning furniture, scattering everything in sight and man-handling women and children, would consequently lead to anger.

The police station naturally became the focal point of the people’s protest. On Monday morning about 100 locals gathered outside holding placards saying ‘OUR TOWN IS SAFE. STOP THE SEARCHES’.

The Royal Military Police inside confronted the crowd and explained the situation as diplomatically as possible; if you don’t disperse helicopters would come and kill you.

Naturally with such over-powering force at disposal, the protest broke up and soon four British Warrior armoured personnel carriers took up a position outside the police station.

Corporal Russell Aston
With the arrival of a British officer a deal was brokered with the Community leader. The deal was this:

  • There was no necessity that the coalition and its agents come to the city.
  • The process of securing weapons in al-Majar district will be supervised by the local security committee.
  • After a period of a week for informing people, heavy weapons, including Dushka [a Soviet-made heavy machine gun], mortars and anti-aircraft guns will be handed in.
  • To see results within one month.
The agreement was sealed with the signatures of a community leader and a British Officer called Captain Tim, ‘We thought we had an agreement,’ said a local.

Sergeant Simon Hamilton-Jewell
But early the next day, a Parachute regiment of soldiers kicked open doors and pointed the barrels of their automatic guns into the faces of fearful families. The raids continued unabated and with renewed vigor. It was either a case of miscommunication or willful disregard to the agreement signed the day before.

The locals were incensed and came out of their homes to fight for their honour.

It wasn’t the British army’s best day. Many stories are now circulating about the behaviour of the British soldiers. Some say they shot dogs, others allege that the troops stole money and harassed women by searching their rooms, and the women themselves.

Corporal Simon Miller
What is certain is that the claims are similar to those made in those cities further north where US troops have adopted an aggressive search policy.

After intense negotiations and much pain suffered by the locals, the British officer agreed to stop for lunch and cease the searches.

But incredulously, the locals watched in horror as within hours of the discussions, British soldiers got back to business and started to search more houses.

It was the end of the tether for the locals and violence sparked.

At least one of the British vehicles was torched and some kind of firefight followed. A Chinook helicopter coming to support the soldiers was hit by a rocket propelled grenade. Local people then dragged off a British vehicle and burned it.

Lance Corporal Tom Keys
By about 10am a vengeful crowd had gathered in the bazaar. What happened next is unclear. Several witnesses say British soldiers moved through the bazaar after searching houses. The witnesses claim they treated local people roughly. ‘One threatened my child with his gun,’ an Iraqi mother complained. As anger built, stones were thrown at the soldiers.

As more people gathered, more stones were thrown. The soldiers are said to have fired back rubber bullets to disperse the crowds, though this is denied by the British army.

What did happen was that a local man started shooting and the British soldiers fired back.

‘It was about 10.15 and the market was very crowded,’ says an eye witness, ‘I threw myself on the ground and shouted to everybody to run away or get down. The shooting lasted for about five minutes but there were bullets going everywhere. They were firing on automatic.’

At least 17 people were hit, included a 13-year-old girl caught by a ricochet in the shoulder and a nine-year-old boy.

Lance Corporal Ben Hyde
As the wounded lay dying in the bazaar the British soldiers drove away. One local said they retreated to an outlying village. The crowd, however, were incensed.  A well known local ambulance man, father to a large family was killed by a bullet to his heart. Many returned home to get their weapons - the very arms that the British soldiers had been trying to collect hours earlier. They headed towards the police station where they knew the British army had a presence.

Corporal Paul Long
The six RMPs at the police station were well known. For weeks they had been coming to the station to liaise with and train the hastily recruited local police force. They had faced no animosity before, except the protest a day earlier.

They couldn’t have known about the massacre miles down the road, because the radios were kept in their land rover, and that was burnt the day before. The Quarter Master wouldn’t have had time to replace it.

The armed crowd was hundreds strong and set on revenge. A siege of the police station began.

No one in Majar al-Kabir would admit to being among the attackers who besieged the police station. But you can be sure that 10 years on, hundreds of locals remember every horrific detail.

By 1pm, all six RMP’s were dead.

RMP guarding Police Station
We know from the Coroner’s report, they only had a third of the ammunition they were meant to.

The six RMP’s took up their positions, four covering entry points downstairs and two on the roof. Their orders were to hold the station and as British soldiers they would not retreat or surrender.

At the time the police station was packed with Iraqi police who the RMP’s were training.

They crawled through a hole in the wall of the police station and away to safety. The Iraqi police pleading with the RMP’s to follow. They assured them of their safety and said they’ll be killed if they stayed.

RMP holding Police Station
The six RMP’s stood their ground. Someone must have opened fired because a fire fight ensued. The initial attacked was repelled but all their ammo was gone.

The locals regrouped and attacked the Police Station from across the open waste of land to its south. The six RMP’s are believed to have died mercilessly and unable to defend themselves.

The Coroners report revealed the horrific details that they all died from multiple shot wounds. Some had up to 20 rounds fired into their bodies. It was clear that the vengeful mob stood over their bodies and fired until their magazines ran dry.

A killer walking away from the Police Station
In March 2006, an inquest into their deaths recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. The Coroner heard claims the soldiers had antiquated radio equipment and only 50 rounds of ammunition rather than the 150 they were supposed to, but ruled their deaths could not have been avoided. An Army Board of Inquiry in 2004 had previously found “no conclusive evidence” that the deaths could have been prevented.

In 2010, eight Iraqis were arrested over their killings, but the charges against six were dropped. The other two stood trial in Baghdad in October that year, only for the case to collapse after just two hours.

As it stands today, 10 years on, no one has been brought to justice. The Iraqi authorities know who killed the six RMP’s, the British Government know and the residents of Majar al-Kabir know.

For the sake of Simon Miller, Tom Keys, Simon Hamilton-Jewell, Russell Aston, Ben Hyde, Paul Long and their families, the world needs to know too…

More than anything, we need to know justice has been served for the deaths of six fallen heroes. And I, once a Royal Military Policeman myself, will never forget the names of our fallen brothers.

Mr. Reg Keys
Mr. Reg Keys, father of Tom, knows it will never bring his son back, as does every parent of a soldier taken in war.

But there are too many mantelpieces across the country, adorned with happy family photographs of young sons and daughters, who will never laugh again. There are too many bedrooms trapped in time, untouched since they got the news. There is too much silence, which would otherwise be filled with the talk of life. There have been too many tears, cried over too many years. There has been too much grief for two nations to bear.

Please let it end… 10 years on…

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