Exposing the truth behind an abusive British frontline

The Baha Mousa Inquiry is presented in full at the Tricycle

�As Britain’s last servicemen and women leave Iraq, Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre is probing our soldiers’ behaviour in the early days of the conflict, in one of its famous tribunal plays.

In September 2003, Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa died while in the custody of British soldiers.

Nine others held with him reported horrific abuse including hooding, beating and being forced into painful stress positions.

The little-known case, which has been dubbed “Britain’s Abu Ghraib” is the subject of a public inquiry, due to report this month.

The theatre, which has previously created vital political drama out of public probes such as the Stephen Lawrence and Bloody Sunday inquiries, is staging a reconstruction of the evidence – edited by tribunal play veteran Richard Norton Taylor.

Dean Ashton plays Cpl Payne, the only soldier jailed for Baha Mousa’s death: “Because every line is taken verbatim from the evidence, every break in thoughts, every um and err is there. It is a real excavation of what was said, and hopefully of the truth,” he says.

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“In one way it’s no different from any acting job – you play the truth of a situation. What’s different is that normal plays have been created in the writers’ mind, you play with the text in rehearsal and a new thing is born. Here, a lot of that work is done for you, the situation is devastating enough without actors putting on a turn.”

Ashton, a former bricklayer from Burnley who now lives in South End Green, says Cpl Payne was forced to plead guilty because there was video evidence of him screaming abuse at the detainees.

“He was also found with the body, but he was the fall guy because there were a lot of other people in that room. They hooded them, put them in stress positions for hours on end and took turns to kick them,” explains Ashton.

Ashton says the play raises myriad issues, including whether the soldiers were properly trained in the legality of forms of detainee “conditioning,” and how senior military manoeuvred to cover the army’s back.

“The point of the inquiry, and of the play, is how could this happen and who allowed it to happen?”

He believes that despite the official end of Britain’s involvement in Iraq, the issues remain relevant.

“Even though this happened eight years ago, thousands of miles away, it should be of importance to anybody with an interest in human justice. Hopefully by exposing this, it will force the British army to change, so it can’t happen again.”

n Tactical Questioning, scenes from the Baha Mousa Inquiry runs at the Tricycle Theatre until July 2.