A top lawyer whose firm earned £11million from pursuing British troops who served in Iraq was accused of being “dishonest” and “absolutely deluded” by a furious MP today.
Conservative Johnny Mercer, a former Army captain, tore into Martyn Day, a senior partner in the law firm Leigh Day, during electric exchanges in Parliament.
Angry Mr Mercer launched his attack as Mr Day claimed he supported the British Army – despite his firm making millions from legal cases against the Ministry of Defence.
He was giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, which is probing how veterans are pursued over historic allegations, often dating back decades.
Asked if he felt regret over soldiers being targeted, Mr Day said: “I am proud of the system that we represent and the rule of law, and the rule of law means that at times soldiers will have to come and give evidence.
“That is tough for them as it is for anybody else.”
Mr Day was cleared of misconduct in 2017 by the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal in relation to the £31million Al-Sweady inquiry.
The probe examined claims British soldiers tortured and murdered Iraqi detainees following the 2004 Battle of Danny Boy, near Basra.
The accusations were levelled by other Iraqis who claimed to have heard victims executed.
But the investigation found the allegations were “wholly without foundation and entirely the product of deliberate lies, reckless speculation and ingrained hostility”.
Mr Mercer told the solicitor: “You have been very publicly shown to have made a lot of this stuff up.
“I know that you have been … dishonest throughout this process.”
Challenged by Mr Day to repeat the allegation outside Parliament, where he would not be protected by legal privilege and could be sued for libel, Mr Mercer hit back: “No problem whatsoever.
“You have known for a long time that those individuals in the Al-Sweady case were part of the Mahdi Army.”
Lawyers did not realise the significance of a document setting out the Iraqi claimants had been in the militia until after cases had been lodged, the solicitor said.
“They were not claims by me, they were claims by the Iraqis we represented,” the solicitor insisted.
Their “complex story” was “very believable”, he added.
But Mr Mercer hit back: “Believable? That British soldiers would execute Iraqi civilians is in your view believable?”
Referring to the case of an Iraqi receptionist who died in British Army custody in 2003, the solicitor replied: “Yes, this came in the aftermath of Baha Mousa where he had just been murdered, so yes.”
The MP told Mr Day he had “completely destroyed with apparently with no concern whatsoever” soldiers’ lives by pursuing legal claims.
Later, ex-Royal Artillery officer Mr Mercer added: “You’re deluded, Martyn, absolutely deluded.”
The lawyer, who repeatedly refused to say how much profit his firm made last year, admitted only one solicitor in his 500-strong firm had ever visited Iraq, on just one occasion.
He was also challenged over its past business practice which saw the firm pay “referral fees” to two Iraq-based agents for passing on cases.
Mr Mercer told him: “In some ways I don’t blame people like you who exploit the system like this, and the MoD and what goes on the and the very difficult scenarios of warfare.
“I don’t blame you for it because you’re making money out of it.”
Mr Day said about 330 claims against the government in relation to Iraq had been successful, with more than 600 still being processed.
He also drew the committee’s anger when he confused the Aldermaston nuclear weapons base with the Hampshire garrison town Aldershot, home of the Army.
And he claimed he had never heard of the “corporate covenant” – a scheme to help veterans which thousands of businesses have joined.
Mr Day provoked stunned bemusement as he insisted: “I support the British Army.”
But Tory MP Mark Francois, an ex-Defence Minister, told Mr Day: “I don’t know how you sleep at night, I really, really don’t.”