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Inquests (Service Personnel Overseas)

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

My honourable 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. When we make these statements, we remember all of our service personnel who have served, or are now serving, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we reaffirm our lasting gratitude. We remember the families of those service personnel who have given their lives for their country in connection with the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our thoughts are with them. We particularly remember the families of the 10 service personnel who have died since our last statement in May.

In this statement 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 8 July 2012.

To supplement this statement I have placed tables in the Libraries of the Houses. The tables include the status of all current cases and the date of death in each case. They display information about those cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been held.

The Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice will continue working closely together, with the aim of improving our processes and continuing the Government’s support for the coroners who are conducting these inquests. We will also work closely with the new Chief Coroner, His Honour Judge Peter Thornton QC, when he takes up post in September. Once again we would take the opportunity to thank coroners, their staff, and everyone who is seeking to support families and provide information, throughout the inquest process and afterwards.

So that no backlog of inquests will develop, both Departments have provided funding for additional resources since October 2007. Before 1 September 2011, these resources were provided to the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, Mr David Ridley, because RAF Lyneham, within his district, was the venue for the repatriation of service personnel. Following the transfer of repatriation ceremonies to RAF Brize Norton on 1 September 2011, we now also provide additional resources to the Oxfordshire coroner.

Current status of inquests

Since the last statement there have been seven inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. A total of 544 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan, including 23 service personnel who died in the UK of their injuries. No formal inquest was held in three other cases. 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, the Lord Advocate has decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Open inquests

Fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan

There are currently 48 open inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Afghanistan; 22 of these involve deaths in the last six months.

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

The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has retained 11 of the remaining open inquests, the Oxfordshire coroner has retained 17, and 21 are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. Hearing dates have been set in six cases.

Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

Six inquests remain to be held for service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries. One inquest date has been set. When continuing investigations into the remaining five cases are completed, they will be listed for hearing.

We shall continue to inform the House of progress.