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Deaths of Service Personnel (Inquests)

Volume 584: debated on Thursday 17 July 2014

Together with the Minister for the Armed Forces, with responsibility for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, I now make our latest joint statement on progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel on active service overseas. On behalf of the Government and the nation we thank our armed forces for their immense courage, their unshakeable determination, and for their sacrifice. We especially remember the families of those who have laid down their lives for their country.

In this statement we give information about the open investigations and inquests which the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroner areas in England and Wales are conducting. The information provided shows the position at 14 July 2014.

We have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses containing information to supplement this statement, indicating the status of all cases and showing whether a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been or is to be held.

Coroners, including the specially trained cadre of coroners whom we have mentioned in previous statements, continue to work with the Ministry of Defence’s defence inquests unit to make sure that investigations are progressed and completed as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Where appropriate, relevant investigations can now be held in Scotland under section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009.

Once again we record our thanks to coroners and their staff, the Chief Coroner, visiting officers and to all those, professional and skilled volunteer alike, who help bereaved families to be at the centre of the investigation process.

RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and, currently, RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, have been the main locations for repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas. Since October 2007 the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice have jointly made additional funding available to the senior coroners for those coroner areas. This helps them to take service personnel inquests forward in balance with their local caseloads.

Current status of inquests

Since our last statement a further six inquests have been concluded into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Afghanistan. In total there have been 610 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan or who have died in the UK of injuries sustained on active service. There has been no formal inquest into three deaths. Two of these deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into other deaths in the same incidents. In the third case it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry into the death of a serviceman who died from his injuries in Scotland, where he had made a partial recovery.

Coroners’ investigations which have been opened

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 14 July, 21 coroner investigations are open into the deaths of service personnel on operations.

The senior coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon has retained six of the open investigations, and the senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained nine. The remaining six coroner investigations are being conducted by senior coroners for areas closer to the next of kin. Six hearing dates have been listed—including one hearing listed for yesterday 16 July.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There are no open coroner investigations in relation to service personnel who have returned home injured and have then died from their injuries.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.