British tour guide, 85, dies in police custody in Iraq after authorities stopped him from leaving

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A British adventurer who was the first to open tours to Iraq after the 2003 war has died in a Baghdad hospital while on his latest excursion faces the death penalty for smuggling.

In what turned out to be his last trip, Geoff Hann, 85, died while in police custody in Iraq after authorities prevented him from leaving the country.

Members of his team have been accused of trying to smuggle historical artifacts out of the country while visiting the ancient ruins of Eridu in southern Iraq.

Geoff Hann, a British adventurer who was the first to open tours in Iraq after the 2003 war, died in police custody in Iraq and authorities prevented him from leaving the country

Jim Fitton, 66, a retired geologist and father of two, was arrested in connection with the alleged smuggling.

Fitton was one of the members who embarked on a tour with Hann through Mesopotamia, arriving in the Sumerian city of Eridu as one of the last places on the list.

After his detention, his daughter Leila Fitton, 31, told The Daily Telegraph: ‘There were no guards present, no signage warning against the removal of any of the rubbish, and indeed neither the Ministry of Tourism representative with them nor the team of experienced tour guides led by Geoff did not suggest that these items were considered valuable. ‘

She said her father asked the representative and the tour guide if they could take home some fragments of the site to remember the trip, and they were told such souvenirs would be allowed.

More than 95,000 people have signed a petition asking the Foreign Office to intervene after Fitton’s family asked for help.

Jim Fitton, 66, a retired geologist and father of two, faces the death penalty after being accused of smuggling antiquities by Iraqi authorities

Jim Fitton, 66, a retired geologist and father of two, faces the death penalty after being accused of smuggling antiquities by Iraqi authorities

Although Hann originally planned to lead the tour himself, he fell ill during the trip, forcing a trainee guide to take over while the adventurer spent most of the remaining trip recuperating on the bus.

Hann was attentive to the sensitivity of the Iraqi authorities when it comes to antiquities, managing a country that has been exploited by looters and smugglers over the years.

His guide, titled Iraq: Ancient Sites and Iraqi Kurdistanwarns visitors: “Outrage over looting in Iraq, primarily that of the National Museum, has resulted in the tightening and strict enforcement of rules regarding the sale, purchase and possession of antiquities in Iraq.

He also cautions against buying antiques from local bazaars and street shops, adding “under no circumstances should you attempt to smuggle antiques out of Iraq.”

But since Hann was unwell, it appears he was not present to notify the tour members in person.

Apparently unbeknownst to the tour leader, members of his party had taken some of the shards found in the Sumerian city, without the intervention of the trainee tour guide.

Fitton, a former geologist for oil and gas companies who now lives in his adopted home in Malaysia with his wife Sarijah, was one of the members who allegedly tried to bring the shards home.

Hann was attentive to the sensitivity of the Iraqi authorities when it comes to antiquities, managing a country that has been exploited by looters and smugglers over the years.

Hann was attentive to the sensitivity of the Iraqi authorities when it comes to antiquities, managing a country that has been exploited by looters and smugglers over the years.

Hann's guide, Iraq: Ancient Sites and Iraqi Kurdistan, states:

Hann’s guide, Iraq: Ancient Sites and Iraqi Kurdistan, states: “Outrage over looting in Iraq, primarily that of the National Museum, has resulted in the tightening and strict enforcement of rules regarding the sale, buying and owning antiquities in Iraq. Iraq’

The trip ended on March 19, with the group sharing a final meal at a restaurant in Baghdad. Hann seemed to be doing better.

But the 85-year-old suffered a stroke the day before he returned home, leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak.

They drove to the airport together, but Iraqi authorities said Hann was too ill to board.

Instead, they transferred him to al-Yarmouk hospital in Baghdad, where he soon contracted Covid-19.

The veteran tour guide developed a lung infection and clots in his lungs, with doctors warning his survival was unlikely.

While in hospital, it appeared that the rest of his tour was dealing with its own issues.

Upon arrival at Baghdad airport, Fitton was immediately detained along with another German tour member.

Authorities located 30 suspected stolen artifacts, seized them and arrested the couple.

Miraculously, Hann was beginning to recover from the virus. He was to be repatriated again for further processing. His close friend organized a medical evacuation at the cost of £24,700.

But the arrest of his tour members, an Iraqi court banned Hann from leaving the country before police had a chance to question him, despite the risks to his health.

He then relapsed and died in hospital in Baghdad.

Authorities spotted 30 artifacts believed to be stolen when tour members attempted to return home, seized them and arrested the two.

Authorities spotted 30 artifacts believed to be stolen when tour members attempted to return home, seized them and arrested the two.

The tourist guide books warn against buying antiques from local bazaars and street shops, saying

The tourist guide books warn against buying antiques from local bazaars and street shops, saying “under no circumstances should you attempt to smuggle antiques out of Iraq”. But since Hann was unwell, it appears he was not present to notify the tour members in person.

An artistic reconstruction of the port of Eridu, where the visit was carried out, is presented

An artistic reconstruction of the port of Eridu, where the visit was carried out, is presented

Fitton’s daughter appealed to the Foreign Office when she learned her father was facing the death penalty.

The Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) warned the family not to speak publicly about the case, advice they initially took.

But after a short wait, they learned that the Foreign Ministry could do nothing for fear of upsetting the Iraqi authorities.

She has since gone public with the incident, saying: ‘We believe that the entire political hierarchy of the FCDO has abandoned Jim to his fate, all the way to the Prime Minister.’

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat MP for Bath, raised the matter with ministers in the House of Commons.

Foreign Secretary Amanda Milling, in a letter to Ms Hobhouse, said last week: ‘We understand the urgency of the matter and have already raised our concerns with the Iraqi authorities over the possible imposition of the death penalty in the case of Mr Fitton and the United Kingdom’s opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances is a matter of principle.

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