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Deaths of Service Personnel (Inquests)

Volume 580: debated on Thursday 8 May 2014

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, with responsibility for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), and I now make the latest in our sequence of joint statements reporting to the House on progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel on active service overseas. Once more we wish to pay grateful tribute to our armed forces for all their skill and courage on behalf of our country. Our thoughts are with the families of all those who have given their lives. We especially remember the families of Sapper Adam Moralee, Captain James Clarke, Flight Lieutenant Rakesh Chauhan, Warrant Officer 2 Spencer Faulkner, Corporal James Walters and Lance Corporal Oliver Thomas, who have died since our last statement.

This statement provides information on the open coroner investigations and inquests being conducted by the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroner areas in England and Wales. The statement gives the position at 1 May 2014.

To provide supplementary information we have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses. The tables give information about the status of all cases and indicate whether a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been or is to be held.

The Ministry of Defence’s defence inquests unit continues to work with coroners, including the cadre of coroners who have received specialist training to conduct coroner investigations and inquests into service personnel deaths, to progress investigations and complete them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

The provisions in section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 will enable relevant investigations to be held in Scotland where this is appropriate.

Our thanks are due once more to the Chief Coroner, coroners and their staff, visiting officers and everyone else whose commitment and care help bereaved families through the investigation process.

Repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have usually taken place at RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and, currently, RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. Joint additional funding has been made available since October 2007 by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice. This helps the senior coroners for those coroner areas to progress service personnel inquests without detriment to their local caseloads.

Current status of inquests

A further six inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Afghanistan have been concluded since our last statement. There have been a total of 604 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan or who returned to the UK and died here of injuries sustained on active service. Three cases led to no formal inquest. Two of the deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into other deaths in the same incidents. The third case relates to a serviceman who died from his injuries in Scotland, where it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Coroner’s investigations which have been opened

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 1 May 2014, 22 coroner investigations are open into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan, with five more due to be opened.

The senior coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon has retained nine of the open investigations, and the senior coroner for Oxfordshire five. Senior coroners for areas closer to the next of kin are conducting the remaining eight coroner investigations. Nine hearing dates have been listed.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There are no open coroner investigations relating to service personnel who returned home injured and thereafter died from their injuries.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.