The chairman of the independent inquiry into alleged unlawful killings in Afghanistan has said it is “critical” those who have broken the law be referred to relevant authorities “for the reputation of the armed forces and the country”.
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave described allegations made against members of the UK armed forces as “extremely serious” – including an alleged cover-up of illegal activity and inadequate investigations by the Royal Military Police.
“I am confident that I and my inquiry team will get to the bottom of this,” the inquiry chairman said.
Asked why the term “special forces” was not mentioned in his opening statement, he told reporters that “armed forces” was the phrase that was to be used in the terms of reference but would not elaborate further.
The chairman said the inquiry was launched in the wake of legal challenges to the Government by Leigh Day solicitors on behalf of the Saifullah and Noorzai families, as well as a number of significant media investigations.
The independent statutory inquiry was commissioned by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace under the 2005 Inquiries Act.
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said the probe was equally important to “have the cloud of suspicion lifted” from those who have done nothing wrong – before telling reporters that some of the alleged unlawful killings could have involved children.
In his opening statement on Wednesday, the inquiry chair said “many hearings” would have to be held in private due to “reasons to do with national security” that are “highly sensitive”.
The inquiry is tasked with determining whether investigations conducted by the Royal Military Police were properly and effectively executed, and whether there is credible information that “numerous” extrajudicial killings (EJKs) were carried out by British armed forces during the three-year period.
The probe will also seek to determine whether the circumstances of EJKs were covered up at any stage and what lessons can be learned.
Officially launching the inquiry, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said: “It is clearly important that anyone who has broken the law is referred to the relevant authorities for investigation.
“This is critical, both for the reputation of the armed forces and the country.”
The families of eight people, including three young boys, who were allegedly murdered by UK special forces in two separate incidents during night raids in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 previously welcomed the announcement.
When the probe was launched, a member of the Noorzai family said: “We live in hope that those responsible will one day be held to account.”
A member of the Saifullah family added: “I am extremely happy that there are people who value the loss of life of my family, of Afghans, enough to investigate.”
“Our clients welcome the official launch of the Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan and look forward to working with Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and his inquiry team as they seek to establish the truth which has been hidden for too long.
Speaking after the inquiry was officially launched, Tessa Gregory, partner at Leigh Day, said: “Our clients welcome the official launch of the Independent Inquiry relating to Afghanistan and look forward to working with Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and his inquiry team as they seek to establish the truth which has been hidden for too long.
“Throughout years of secrecy and cover-ups our clients have fought tirelessly for justice for their loved ones’ deaths and they hope that a bright light will now be shone on the practices and command of UK special forces in Afghanistan.”
The chairman urged anyone with information or material relevant to the inquiry to come forward.
A further case management hearing is due to be held on April 25 in London – where a more detailed timetable will be set.