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Inquests (Service Personnel)

Volume 557: debated on Thursday 31 January 2013

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I now make the latest of our quarterly statements to the House in which we report progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died on active service overseas. As always, we wish to express the nation’s gratitude to all our service personnel who have served or are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. We are all deeply indebted to them for their steadfast courage and their total professionalism. We remember those who have given their lives for their country, and the families who have lost them. We particularly think of the families of the five service personnel who have fallen since our last statement in October 2012.

In this statement we provide details of inquests conducted by the Oxfordshire coroner, the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner and other coroners in England and Wales. This statement gives the position at 25 January 2013.

To supplement this statement we have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses containing further information. The tables indicate the status of all current cases and provide information about cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been held or has been directed to be held.

Our Departments have worked together for several years to make our processes as effective and as timely as possible. As we informed the House in our last statement, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales took up post on 17 September 2012, and will have a number of specific powers and duties in relation to service personnel inquests. We have also commenced section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, enabling deaths of service personnel killed abroad on active duty to be investigated in Scotland, where appropriate.

We will continue to support the coroners who are conducting inquests into the deaths of service personnel. Once more we offer our sincere thanks to coroners, their staff and everyone who supports bereaved families and helps them throughout the inquest process.

Since October 2007 both Departments have provided funding for additional resources for the coroners for Wiltshire and Swindon and for Oxfordshire. This is to prevent a backlog of inquests and to help the coroners conduct the inquests of fallen service personnel who have been repatriated to airbases in their districts. RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire was the airbase for repatriations from 1 April 2007 to 31 August 2011, while from 1 September 2011 repatriations have taken place at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.

Current status of inquests

Since the last statement there have been four inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. In total, 558 inquests have been held relating to service personnel who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan or have died in the UK from injuries they received in those operations. In three cases no formal inquest has been held. In one of these, the serviceman died in Scotland from his injuries. It was decided that a fatal accident inquiry would not be held. In the two other cases, the death was taken into consideration as part of the inquests into the deaths of other service personnel who died in the incidents.

Open inquests

Deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan

As at 25 January, there are 53 open inquests into the deaths of service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan. A total of 16 of these inquests concern deaths in the last six months.

The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has retained 10 of the open inquests and the Oxfordshire coroner has retained 23. Coroners closer to the next-of-kin are conducting the remaining 20 inquests. Seven hearing dates have been set at present.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There are six open inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured but sadly died of their injuries. These inquests will be listed when the continuing investigations are completed.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.