A LIVERPOOL soldier cleared of killing an Iraqi teenager last night told of his three year torment.
Guardsman Joseph McCleary, 24, who was tried for the manslaughter of a 15-year-old, said the Army had used him as a scapegoat.
Surrounded by family and friends who had gathered to welcome him home to Liverpool, Guardsman McCleary revealed he is to leave the Army after his ordeal.
He said: "I have had the worst three years of my life. I didn't know what would happen to me, I couldn't have handled being in prison.
"I have never even stolen a Mars bar in my life. I could never have done what they accused me of.
"I am just so happy it is all over. When the verdict came in, I felt as though the whole world had lifted off my shoulders. Now I just want to get on with my life."
Described as a gentle giant by his family, 6ft 3ins Guardsman McCleary, who is in the Irish Guards, was cleared after a five-hour deliberation by a court-martial in Colchester on Tuesday.
Co-accused Sergeant Carle Selman, 39, serving with the Scots Guards, and Guardsman Martin McGing, 22, of the Irish Guards, were also found not guilty following the five week trial.
The men were accused of forcing Ahmed Jabar Karheem, who could not swim, into the Shatt al-Basra canal in Basra at gunpoint in May, 2003.
The boy's friend, who was also thrown into the water claimed they were pelted with stones, but the jury was warned to treat his evidence carefully.
The incident happened just after the end of the war on Iraq and at the start of the peacekeeping process.
The court-martial heard that vastly outnumbered soldiers trying to control looters would "wet" them in rivers and canals in an attempt to make them feel uncomfortable and persuade them to go home.
Soldiers said "wetting" was regarded as "minimum force" in the circumstances.