My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, the Member for Harlow (Bill Rammell) 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. We cannot express highly enough the regard in which we continue to hold our service personnel who are serving, or who have served, in the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our deepest sympathies lie with the families of those personnel who have lost their lives in these operations. It is a cause of particular sadness that since our last statement a further 47 service personnel have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Today, we are announcing the progress that has been made since the written ministerial statement on 15 July 2009, Official Report, column 30WS, with information about the conduct of inquests by the Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners. This statement gives the position at 16 October.
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 6 July, 241 inquests had been held since June 2006: 227 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 6 July a further 19 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This makes a total of 260 inquests held since June 2006.
Since operations commenced in 2001 there have been a total of 284 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including four 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 of 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.
i Pre-31 March 2007 Fatalities
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. It is helpful that the district continues to benefit from the experience and expertise of David Masters, who retired as coroner on 31 March but has been appointed as an assistant deputy coroner by his successor, David Ridley.
There are 105 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 (64 involving deaths in the last six months). Of these, Mr. Ridley has retained 56 inquests, whilst 47 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin, and two inquest transfers are pending. At 16 October, 1 recent fatality had been repatriated but the inquest was yet to be opened. Hearing dates have been set in 13 of these cases.
iii Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured
There remain eight 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.