An Iraqi court has overturned a 15-year sentence handed to a British tourist for allegedly stealing pottery from an archaeological dig site.
Confirmation of the overturned decision was broken by his relieved family, who announced that after spending six weeks in Baghdad’s Rusafa prison, the ruling against 66-year-old James Fitton was reversed.
Earlier in the year, the former geologist was arrested after shards of ancient pottery were found in a suitcase at the airport. When authorities searched his belongings, they found that the artefacts had been taken from the Sumerian site of Eridu in southern Iraq.
Fitton, however, claimed that he had only collected the shards he discovered with the blessing of his tour guide and was unaware that such actions were not permitted.
Looting of cultural heritage sites in Iraq is potentially punishable by death after Saddam Hussein introduced tougher laws during his regime in order to tackle the rampant problem that the country faced on this front.
However, original Fitton’s 15-year sentence was overturned after his lawyer, Thair Soud, successfully argued that he had not acted with criminal intent and it was merely the negligent permissiveness of their tour guide that had caused the problem.
In a statement, his family said: “We were informed this morning that the appeals court has decided to quash the verdict of the Felony Court, to fully recognize Jim’s innocence in this case, and to process his immediate release from a 15-year prison sentence in Baghdad.”
Adding: “We understand that this process is underway. He is still in prison this evening but will soon be released.”
He is likely to be making his return to Bath in the coming days.