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Inquests (Service Personnel)

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2009

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the latest in the series of quarterly statements to the House about the inquests of service personnel and others who have died overseas. Our deepest condolences go, as ever, to the families of the service personnel who have lost their lives in the service of their country, and in particular to the 31 who have died since our last statement.

All the families whose loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country, or who have otherwise lost their lives in connection with the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, remain very much in our thoughts.

Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the written ministerial statement on 5 May 2009, Official Report, column 7WS, with information about the conduct of inquests by the Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This statement gives the position at 6 July.

The tables which accompany this statement again include information about those cases which involve a board of inquiry or a service inquiry.

Progress with inquests

At the time of the last statement, we reported that up to 27 April 230 inquests had been held since June 2006: 216 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham.

Since 27 April a further 11 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 241 inquests held since June 2006.

Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 265 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including five service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.

We remain deeply grateful for the efforts of all the coroners who are involved in conducting these inquests, and totally committed in our support for the independent coronial system.

Our Departments continue to work closely together, and with the coroners, to review the way in which the system is working and to look for opportunities, prior to the implementation of the coroners’ legislation which is currently before Parliament in the Coroners and Justice Bill, to make improvements for the benefit of the bereaved families.

Open inquests

i Pre-31 March 2007 Fatalities

The statement in May reported that there was one remaining inquest to be held into a death where the body was repatriated via RAF Brize Norton prior to 31 March 2007, into the death of Marine Wigley. That inquest has since been concluded and there are no outstanding pre-March 31 2007 inquests in the Oxfordshire coroner’s district

ii Post-1 April 2007 Fatalities

Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests does not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon district (since 1 April 2007 fatalities have been repatriated via RAF Lyneham). The coroner transfers inquests for service personnel to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible. We are pleased that the district continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of David Masters, who retired as coroner on 31 March, following his appointment as an assistant deputy coroner by his successor, David Ridley.

There are 76 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007 (36 involving deaths in the last six months). Of these, Mr. Ridley has retained 41 inquests, while 35 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. At 6 July, two fatalities had been repatriated but inquests were yet to be opened, and four recent fatalities awaited repatriation. Hearing dates have been set in 22 of these cases.

iii. Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There remain six inquests to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries.

We shall continue to keep the House informed about progress with the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Library of the House which outline the status of all cases and the date of death in each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.