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Deaths of Service Personnel Overseas (Inquests)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 16 July 2013

The Minister for the Armed Forces, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Mr Robathan) and I now make our latest quarterly statement to the House on progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel on active service overseas. First of all we wish to express the Government’s and the nation’s deep sense of gratitude to all our service personnel who have served on behalf of us all in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. They are second to none in their continuous courage and their complete professionalism. We think of those service personnel who have given their lives, and we remember the families who are trying to learn how to live without them.

This statement provides details of inquests conducted by the Oxfordshire coroner, the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner and other coroners in England and Wales. The statement shows the position at 9 July 2013.

There is additional information to supplement this statement in tables which we have placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The tables give the status of all current cases. They include information about cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been held or has been directed to be held.

Our two Departments will continue to work together to ensure that our processes are timely and effective. The Chief Coroner for England and Wales is in post and his additional powers and duties in relation to service personnel inquests will come into force this summer. As we have previously reported. Section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into force last year and enables deaths of service personnel killed abroad on active duty to be investigated in Scotland where appropriate.

Once again we offer our sincere thanks to coroners and their staff who are conducting inquests into the deaths of service personnel, and we will continue to support them. We are also grateful to everyone else who provides help and support for bereaved families as the inquest process goes forward.

Both Departments have made funding available for additional resources for the coroners in Wiltshire and Swindon and in Oxfordshire since October 2007. This helps those coroners conduct the inquests of service personnel who have been repatriated to airbases at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire in their respective districts. The extra funding prevents any backlog of inquests and makes it easier for the coroners to take the service personnel inquests forward while still dealing with their normal workload.

Current status of inquests

Since we made our last statement a further four inquests have been concluded into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. There have been a total of 573 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan or have returned to the UK and sadly died here from injuries sustained on those operations. In three cases there has been no formal inquest. One of these cases concerns a serviceman who died from his injuries in Scotland, where it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry. The other two deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into the deaths of other service personnel who died in the respective incidents.

Open inquests

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 9 July 2013, 45 inquests are open into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan. Four of these inquests concern deaths in the last six months.

The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has retained nine of the open inquests, while the Oxfordshire coroner has retained 22. Coroners nearer to the next-of-kin have accepted jurisdiction in the remaining 14 inquests. Eight hearing dates have been set.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

Regarding the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured but have sadly died of their injuries, three inquests are open and will be listed when investigations into the deaths have been completed.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.