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Oxfordshire Inquests

Volume 447: debated on Monday 5 June 2006

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following statement to the House about inquests due to be held in the Oxfordshire area. All casualties suffered by the UK armed forces are a source of profound regret. UK service personnel have put their lives on the line to help the Iraqis build a strong, stable and democratic Iraq and we cannot pay high enough tribute to the job they are doing, or the sacrifice some of them have made, We are committed to assisting families of UK service personnel who have died in Iraq when their loved ones are returned to the UK.

Today we are announcing information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire Coroner, Mr. Nicholas Gardiner, and how we intend to enable him to conduct expeditious inquests in his jurisdiction including into the deaths of servicemen and women who have died in Iraq.

Background

Inquests are to serve two main purposes, first to account publicly, in the public interests, for the cause of death, and secondly to give an opportunity for the bereaved family to ask questions about the death.

Each death of a serviceman or woman killed in an operation overseas whose body is repatriated to England and Wales is subject to an inquest. The inquest—both the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the death—is conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction which derives from where the body lies. In the case of deaths of servicemen and women whose bodies are flown into Brize Norton military airbase, the Oxfordshire Coroner Mr. Gardiner has jurisdiction.

Over the last 12 months, in addition to the non-armed forces inquests for which he has jurisdiction, Mr. Gardiner, his deputy coroners and one other coroner have conducted 30 inquests into the deaths of servicemen who have died in Iraq.

There remain 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel killed in Iraq, and 11 inquests of civilians whose bodies were flown into Brize Norton.

This does include the five deaths which occurred on 1 May in the helicopter crash in Basra and the two deaths which occurred on 13 May but not the two deaths from the 28 May bomb explosions near Basra.

Further support for the coroner to conduct inquests on deceased armed forces personnel

The Government have made available to the Oxfordshire coroner the resources to enable him to deal with the outstanding inquests:

Assistant Deputy Coroner—Sir Richard Curtis, a retired High Court judge, will be available from the end of June (subject of course to a number of other commitments), for the coroner to appoint as necessary.

Assistant Deputy Coroner— Selena Lynch will be available to begin on case papers from the week commencing 5 June, and is available from then until early July and then from late July onwards, for the coroner to appoint.

Assistant Deputy Coroner—Andrew Walker who is available to begin on case papers next week and is then available for two weeks in August and then from mid-September onwards.

Two additional coroner's officers—Thames Valley police have confirmed that they have two officers available who can be in place by the end of next week.

Additional member of support staff—This is available immediately.

Recording equipment—To enable two further courts to operate simultaneously.

Progress in the remaining inquests

The Oxfordshire coroner expects, with the additional resources, which have not hitherto been at his disposal, to be able to conclude those inquests of servicemen and women where the Ministry of Defence have completed their own inquiries and case papers have been prepared by the end of the year (we know of 30 cases in this category). With the additional resources the coroner would also expect to conclude inquests of civilians killed in Iraq where he has been provided with reports and other information (we know of three cases in this category) by the end of this year. We intend to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. We attach a table, which outlines the number of inquests outstanding and the date of death in each case.

Liaison with the Next of Kin

It is of the greatest importance that the next of kin have full information about the progress on the inquest of their deceased next of kin. The extra coroner resources will enable this to happen, in addition to the normal liaison between the Ministry of Defence and the families concerned.

Coronial Independence

Coroners are independent judicial officers. They are appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority and their officers and staff are employed by the local authority and/or the police.

Oxfordshire coroner:(i) Servicemen fatalities

Date of Death

Name of the Deceased

21.03.03

Lance Bombardier Evans*

21.03.03

Sergeant Hehir*

21.03.03

Major Ward* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Captain Guy*

(Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Warrant Officer 2 Stratford* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Colour Sergeant Cecil* (Royal Marines)

21.03.03

Marine Hedenskog*

21.03.03

Operator Maintainer (Communications ) 1 Seymour* (Royal Navy)

22.03.03

Lieutenant Wilson

22.03.03

Lieutenant West

22.03.03

Lieutenant Green

22.03.03

Lieutenant Williams

22.03.03

Lieutenant King

22.03.03

Lieutenant Lawrence

22.03.03

Flight Lieutenant Main*

22.03.03

Flight Lieutenant Williams*

22.03.03

Sapper Allsopp

22.03.03

Staff Sergeant Cullingworth

24.03.03

Sergeant Roberts*

25.03.03

Corporal Allbutt

28.03.03

Lance Corporal of Horse Hull

30.03.03

Lance Corporal Brierley

30.03.03

Marine Maddison

30.3.03

Major Ballard

01.04.03

Lance Corporal Shearer

06.04.03

Fusilier Turlington

06.04.03

Private Muzvuru*

06.04.03

Lance Corporal Malone*

13.08.03

Private Smith

23.09.03

Sergeant Nightingale

01.01.04

Sergeant Patterson

01.01.04

Major Stenner

02.01.04

Lance Corporal Craw

28.06.04

Fusilier Gentle

19.07.04

Flight Lieutenant Gover*

09.08.04

Private O'Callaghan

31.10.04

Staff Sergeant Rose*

08.11.04

Private Tukutukuwaqa

01.05.05

Guardsman Wakefield

25.05.05

Lance Corporal Brackenbury*

29.06.05

Signaller Didsbury

15.07.05

Private Spicer

15.07.05

Private Hewett

15.07.05

2nd Lieutenant Shearer

05.09.05

Fusilier Manning

05.09.05

Fusilier Meade

30.01.06

Lance Corporal Douglas*

31.01.06

Corporal Pritchard*

02.02.06

Trooper Smith*

28.02.06

Private Ellis*

28.02.06

Captain Holmes*

28.02.06

Lieutenant Palmer*

15.05.06

Private Morris*

15.05.06

Private Lewaicei*

07.05.06

Wing Commander John Coxen*

07.05.06

Lieutenant Commander Darren Chapman*

07.05.06

Captain David Dobson*

07.05.06

Flight Lieutenant Sarah-Jayne Mulvihill*

07.05.06

Marine Paul Collins*

Source: Oxfordshire Coroner and Ministry of Defence

* Denotes that the investigation is incomplete

Oxfordshire coroner:(ii) Civilian fatalities

Date of Death

Name of the Deceased

22.03.03

Terry Lloyd*

11.10.04

P Chadwick

24.05.04

Robert Morgan

24.05.04

Mark Carman

09.12.04

Rag Gurung*

01.01.05

John Dolman*

01.01.05

Nicholas Pears*

01.01.05

John Eardley*

01.01.05

Tracy Hushin*

30.07.05

Kenneth Hull*

30.07.05

Andrew Holloway*

Source: Oxfordshire Coroner and Ministry of Defence

* Denotes that the investigation is incomplete