The family of a retired British geologist who was detained in Iraq have thanked the “kindness of strangers” for supporting their campaign when he returned home.
Jim Fitton, 66, was arrested on March 20 and jailed for 15 years for collecting stones and pottery shards as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu, in Iraq’s southeast, as part of an organized geology and archeology tour.
Iraqi officials claimed that the artifacts could be considered archaeological artifacts since they date back more than 200 years.
Fitton’s conviction was overturned by Iraqi courts following a campaign by the family’s local MP, Wera Hobhouse, along with thousands of people in the UK who wrote to their own MPs, signed a petition and sent messages of support.
Father-of-two Mr Fitton lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with his wife Sarijah, and he returned on Friday afternoon.
Speaking from his home during a virtual press conference two days later, his daughter Leila and her husband Sam Tasker said 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, Leila Fitton said: “It was a nightmare – worse than a nightmare.
“I’m very close to my dad and of course, he missed our wedding, he missed a lot.
“I really missed him because I hadn’t seen him for two years, so it affected me a lot.
“I was stressed every day, I couldn’t sleep and I feel like I haven’t slept in months.
“I can’t imagine what he went through, the amount of anguish.”
Tasker added: “I’m not 100% sure he really thought he was home until he woke up in his own bed.
“It was 160 days of constant adrenaline and fear, real fear.”
You are proof that the actions of the many can move the needle in situations like this, you spurred us on when we were struggling to find hops.
The couple thanked all those who signed a petition to help bring Fitton home, saying they would “never again doubt the kindness of strangers”.
They also thanked Richard Ratcliffe, who gave them advice and support based on his experience of his wife, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, being released from an Iranian prison earlier this year.
Tasker said: “We personally have so many people to thank for their support during this terrible and trying time for our family, not least the 357,000 people who signed a petition on change.org, who kept us going with kind comments and words. of support, hundreds of supporters who wrote letters to their MPs asking for involvement.
“You are proof that the actions of the many can move the needle in situations like this, you spurred us on when we were struggling to find hope.
“We as a family will never again doubt the kindness of strangers.”
He stressed that there are still “a number of families with British national relatives who are arbitrarily detained abroad” and that Mr Fitton’s release “in no way means that the job is anywhere near done”.
Hobhouse, a Liberal Democrat MP, thanked the Foreign Office but said officials’ initial response was “not good enough”.
She said ministers only responded to her request for help after 10 days, and only after she raised it in parliament.
Hobhouse said: “Jim’s case really resonated with people and there was a unanimous outpouring of sympathy and support.
“Eventually the Foreign Office stepped up and I want to say thank you for what they did in the background – although it wasn’t always entirely clear what it was.”
Fitton was arrested at Baghdad Airport along with German tourist Volker Waldmann after security staff discovered the items in their luggage.
The pair told magistrates they had not acted with criminal intent and Mr Fitton explained he collected such fragments as a hobby.
Iraqi law said the death penalty was a possible sentence, but Fitton was sentenced to 15 years in prison while Waldmann was acquitted.
Fitton was initially held in an airport detention center after his arrest and had been in an Iraqi prison since the second week of June.