British troops take over the Iraqi village of Majar al-Kabir in 2003 Photograph: Denis Doyle/AP
British military doctors failed to give any pain relief to Iraqi insurgents with gunshot wounds – although they did check their pulses and breathing before they were sent for interrogation, a public inquiry into allegations of murder and the abuse of unarmed prisoners by UK forces heard on Thursday.
One man who had three bullet wounds and several shrapnel wounds to his right leg and foot says he told an army doctor that he was "in agony", but his detention record showed that he received no analgesics. He later needed surgery.
Others with gunshot wounds, or injuries including cuts, bruises or broken noses that they say were inflicted after capture by British troops, say that they were medically examined before interrogation but not given pain relief.
Jonathan Acton Davis QC, counsel to the al-Sweady Inquiry, said that the records showed that men captured after a fierce battle near the town of Majar al-Kabir in south-east Iraq were weighed on arrival at the Shaibah logistics base, and that doctors also checked their pulses, respiration, body temperatures, analysed their urine for blood, glucose or protein, and even asked whether they had any allergies. They were then passed as being fit for detention, and sent for interrogation sessions, during which some are alleged to have been assaulted.
While photographs taken shortly afterwards suggested that some of the prisoners had not been assaulted with the severity they alleged, other pictures and medical records, did tend to support some of the claims, Acton Davis said.
Major David Winfield, the army doctor who examined the man with gunshot wounds who alleges he complained of being in great pain, has said that he would have given pain relief if requested. Nevertheless, said Acton Davis, the allegations made by the prisoners about their medical examinations would need to be investigated by the inquiry.
The inquiry, which was ordered more than three years ago, also heard that the Ministry of Defence was yet to hand over a key document: the operation directive governing the interrogation centre known as the joint forward interrogation team (JFIT) at the time that the men were being held there for questioning.
This document was needed to establish the orders governing British military interrogators, who are alleged to have been involved in the torture of some detainees. "We lack one of the critical yardsticks against which to measure the conduct alleged against some of the interrogators," Acton Davis said.
Furthermore, several JFIT interrogators had not yet provided the inquiry with a signed statement, several months after they had been requested to do so, he said.
The inquiry has heard that there is a "stark dispute" between the former detainees, and the relatives of up to 20 men said to have been killed unlawfully at a separate British military base called Camp Abu Naji, and the Ministry of Defence, which insists that there was no mistreatment and no killings.
The inquiry was established after a number of former prisoners and relatives brought proceedings in the high court in London, demanding an independent investigation in line with the requirements of the European Convention on Human Rights. The need for the inquiry was accepted in November 2009 by the then defence secretary, Bob Ainsworth, after high court judges accused the MoD of "lamentable" behaviour and "serious breaches" of its duty of candour during the court proceedings.
The inquiry, which is named after Hamid al-Sweady, a 19-year-old alleged victim, will hear evidence from around 60 Iraqi witnesses, in London and Beirut, and from up to 200 military witnesses. It is unlikely to report before the end of next year.
Acton Davis said the first responsibility of the inquiry would be to attempt to establish whether 20 Iraqi men were killed during the battle in May 2004 and their corpses taken Camp Abu Naji – as the Ministry of Defence insists was the case – or whether they were captured alive and then unlawfully killed during 14 and 15 May 2004.
In addition, the inquiry will examine allegations that five men taken prisoner following the same battle were mistreated at the large British logistics base at Shaibah, which was JFIT.