Family of geologist released from Iraq thanks ‘kindness of strangers’ on his return

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The family of a retired British geologist who was detained in Iraq have thanked the “kindness of strangers” for supporting their campaign as they return home.

Jim Fitton, 66, was arrested on March 20 and was visiting a site in Eridu, southeast Iraq, as part of an organized tour of geology and archaeology, where he was presented with stone and pottery fragments. was sent to prison for 15 years on collection as

Iraqi officials claimed that the objects could be considered archaeological pieces because they were more than 200 years old.

Mr Fitton’s sentence was overturned by Iraqi courts following a campaign by the family’s local MP, Vera Hobhouse, with thousands of people in the UK writing to their own MPs, signing a petition and sending messages of support. .

Father-of-two Mr Fitton lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with his wife Sarija and returned on Friday afternoon.

Speaking from their home during a virtual press conference two days later, his daughter Layla and her husband Sam Tasker said Mr Fitton had lost a lot of weight but was “staying positive”.

Asked by the PA news agency how the last four months had been for the family, Lily Fitton said: “It’s been a nightmare – worse than a nightmare.

“I’m very close to my father and of course, he missed our wedding, he missed it a lot.

“I really missed him because I hadn’t seen him in two years, so he had a big impact on me.

“I was stressed every day, I couldn’t sleep and I felt like I hadn’t slept in months.

“I can’t imagine how much trouble he must have gone through.”

Mr Tasker added: “I’m not 100% sure he really believed he was home until he got up in his bed.

“It was 160 odd days of constant adrenaline and fear, proper fear.”

You are proof that the actions of many people can move the needle in situations like this, you encouraged us when we were struggling to find the hop.

The couple thanked all those who signed a petition to help bring Mr Fitton home and said they would “never again doubt the kindness of strangers”.

He also thanked Richard Ratcliffe, who offered advice and support based on his experience with his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who was released from an Iranian prison earlier this year.

Mr Tasker said: “We have so many people to personally thank for their support during this terrible and difficult time for our family, including at least 357,000 people who signed a petition on change.org. Signed, who kept us going with kind comments and words of support, hundreds of supporters who wrote letters to their MPs asking for engagement.

“You are proof that the actions of many can move the needle in situations like this, you gave us strength when we were struggling to find hope.

“We as a family will never again doubt the kindness of strangers.”

He stressed that there were still “numerous families with UK national relatives being arbitrarily detained abroad” and that Mr Fitton’s release “in no way means that work is anywhere near”.

Liberal Democrat MP Ms Hobhouse thanked the Foreign Office, but said the authorities’ initial response was “not good enough”.

He said ministers responded to his plea for help after only 10 days, and only after he raised it in Parliament.

Vera Hobhouse MP (Jonathan Brady/PA) / PA Archive

Ms Hobhouse said: “Jim’s case really resonated with people and there was a unanimous outpouring of sympathy and support.

“Finally the Foreign Office stepped in and I want to say thank you for what they did in the background – although it wasn’t always clear what it was.”

Mr Fitton was arrested at Baghdad airport along with German tourist Volker Waldmann after security staff discovered the items in their luggage.

The pair told jurors they did not act with criminal intent, with Mr Fitton explaining that he collected such pieces as a hobby.

Iraqi law said the death penalty was a possible sentence, but Mr Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison while Mr Waldman was acquitted.

Mr Fitton was initially held in an airport detention center after his arrest and has been in an Iraqi prison since the second week of June.