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Deaths of Service Personnel Overseas

Volume 534: debated on Monday 31 October 2011

My hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the latest of our quarterly statements to the House giving details of the inquests of service personnel who have died overseas. We remain deeply grateful to all of our service personnel who have served, or are now serving, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

We wish once more to express our sincere condolences to the families of those service personnel who have given their lives for their country in connection with the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in particular the six service personnel who have died since our last statement. Their families, and all the bereaved families, will remain in our thoughts.

Today we are announcing the current status of inquests conducted by the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, the Oxfordshire coroner, and other coroners in England and Wales. This statement gives the position at 21 October 2011.

To supplement this statement I have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses, outlining the status of all cases and showing the date of death in each case. The tables also provide information about cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been held.

Our Departments will continue working closely together to improve our processes. We will continue the Government’s support for coroners who are conducting inquests into operational deaths, and we are grateful to them and their staff for their dedicated work. We wish to express our thanks to all those who provide support and information, both throughout the inquest process and afterwards.

Since October 2007 both Departments have provided additional resources for operational inquests. These resources have been provided to the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, Mr David Ridley, as prior to 1 September 2011 repatriation of service personnel took place at RAF Lyneham. These measures have been provided to ensure that there is not a backlog of operational inquests. As I confirmed in the last statement, we are also providing additional resources to the Oxfordshire coroner, Mr Nicholas Gardiner, as repatriation ceremonies for those killed on operations overseas now take place at RAF Brize Norton, within his district.

Current status of inquests

Since the last statement there have been 18 inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A total of 498 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 15 service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. In three further cases, no formal inquest was held. In two of these cases the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident. In the third case, where the serviceman died of his injuries in Scotland, it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Open inquests

Fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan

There are currently 61 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan and one inquest is yet to be opened. Eighteen of these involve deaths in the last six months. The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has retained 18 of the remaining open inquests, and 34 are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. Hearing dates have been set in 12 cases.

There is one remaining open inquest into deaths from operations in Iraq.

Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

Nine inquests remain to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries. Five hearing dates have been set. The remaining four cases will be listed for hearing when the continuing investigations are completed.

We shall continue to inform the House of progress with the remaining inquests.