The Fife sister of a retired geologist who spent months fearing execution in Iraq has spoken of her relief after he was released from jail and allowed to return home.
Jim Fitton, 66, was sentenced to 15 years in prison accused of trying to illegally smuggle historic artefacts from the country.
Sister Ruth Zuccarello, 68, who lives in Kirkcaldy, said the nightmare was “out of this world” as she waited to discover her brother’s fate.
But she admitted it was a “huge relief” when his conviction was overturned and he was finally allowed to leave Iraq after four months of hell.
Mr Fitton, originally from Bath, was finally reunited with his family in Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur last Friday.
His sister said: “It’s a huge relief. It’s still difficult to actually believe it.
“It’s been such a difficult time. It’s been a horrendous time, obviously for him, and for us in a different way.
“Knowing the fate he’d been served up with, 15 years in jail, we were very much on tenterhooks as to how successful the appeal would be.
“There was no way of knowing. It was very nerve wracking.”
She added: “It takes a while to feel real. It was such a nightmare.”
Mr Fitton had been collecting shards of broken pottery while visiting a site as part of an organised archaeology tour.
The geologist had been assured artefacts he collected had no historic value and was told he would be allowed to take them home as souvenirs.
Ms Zuccarello said it was a “massive shock” for the whole family when her brother was detained at the airport and then threatened with death row in March.
She said: “The fact he had been convicted totally unexpectedly, even by his lawyer, was something that could hardly be believed.
‘Out of this world’
“It was out of this world. You couldn’t actually come to terms with it. It came as a massive shock.
“That this conviction was completely overturned – it’s from one extreme to the other.”
While the siblings have not yet been reunited in-person, Ms Zuccarello has been in contact with her brother.
She said: “He knows we’re absolutely delighted.
“All you can do at this point is wish him a gradual and good readjustment and recovery.”
She was still worried for her brother’s safety on the day of his release, since it clashed with political turmoil in Iraq.
She told The Courier: “The day he was released was the day of protests when the Iraqi parliament was stormed.
“I found that quite nerve wracking, knowing that he’d been released, but not knowing anything about the particulars and when he’d get out.”
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath MP Neale Hanvey regularly pressured the UK Government over Mr Fitton’s case and blamed them for failing to take action quicker.
Ms Zucarello praised him for his help and said she was “grateful” to everyone who took an interest in her brother’s ordeal.
She said: “I’m really pleased that the outcome of the appeal was actually delivered solely by the Iraqi judicial system.
“They recognised his complete innocence. For me that was very rewarding. It was very heartening, to think that justice was done.”