Skip to main content

Armed Forces: Casualties

Volume 475: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2008

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence when his Department received from the US Administration the CD recording of the attack which resulted in the death of Lance Corporal of Horse Matthew Hull; under what conditions the CD was given to the Department; which sections of the Department received copies of the recording; how many copies were received; whether any further copies were made; which individuals have had possession of a copy of the recording; what the security classification was of the recording; and what the consequences of this classification were for its handling and disclosure. (121239)

The handling of the CD recording in question is currently being investigated. I will write to the hon. Member when the investigation is complete and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.

Substantive answer from Des Browne to Liam Fox:

You will recall that I wrote to you on 31 August 2007 about the investigation into the handling of the US cockpit recording of an attack on a UK light tank in Iraq on 28 March 2003. We have now received the Joint Army/RAF investigation report on the unauthorised disclosure of the cockpit recording and I am therefore able to give you a substantive reply to your Parliamentary Question of 20 February 2007 (Official Report, column 601W).

In preparation for the Board of Inquiry into the circumstances of the incident, material was requested from the US authorities including the CD recording. A CD of the cockpit recording was received by the Board of Inquiry from the US authorities on 23 April 2004 via the MOD’s Permanent Joint Headquarters. The CD was classified “SECRET- US Government Property - Protect from unauthorized disclosure.” This classification is equivalent to the UK Secret protective marking and should have ensured that unauthorised access and disclosure did not occur. As the classification level required the recording of the item in Protective Document Registers this should also have ensured that a proper audit trail was maintained. I regret that the appropriate procedures were not followed.

The investigation found that at least eight copies were made of the CD and used for various purposes including use by the Board of Inquiry, to help with briefing for deploying pilots and forward air controllers, and to assist studies into friendly fire incidents. The sections of the Department which received copies of the CD were HQ LAND, HQ Adjutant General, Air Command and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to identify how many individuals have had possession of a copy of the recording.

As a result of the failings identified, remedial action is being taken. A new security education programme is being introduced as part of a wider security awareness campaign to ensure that those involved in the handling of classified and sensitive material are aware of the rules and procedures to be followed. An instruction on the release of US (and other third country) material during legal proceedings has also been issued to all MOD personnel to remind them of their responsibilities in respect of the secure handling of protectively marked US material, and we are in the process of establishing new arrangements for the management of Boards of Inquiry and Inquests to ensure a more consistent approach across the Department. The US authorities have been informed of the investigation’s findings and of the remedial action taken.

I can assure you that I take the protection of classified material, especially that entrusted to us by a close ally, very seriously, and the Permanent Secretary has asked the chain of command to consider whether administrative or disciplinary action against any individual is appropriate in light of the findings of the report.