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Deaths of Service Personnel on Overseas Operations

Volume 587: debated on Thursday 30 October 2014

My hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans and I present our latest joint statement reporting progress with coroner investigations into the deaths of UK service personnel on active service overseas. We wish as always to pay tribute to our armed forces for the constant courage and skill with which they serve our country. We particularly remember those service personnel who have given their lives. Our thoughts remain with their families.

This statement indicates the position at 23 October 2014 on open investigations and inquests which the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroner areas in England and Wales are conducting.

As supplementary information to this statement we have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses. The tables include the status of all cases and show whether there has been or will be a service inquiry. In the earlier years covered, a service inquiry was known as a board of inquiry.

The Ministry of Defence’s defence inquests unit continues to work with coroners, including a cadre of coroners who have received special training in handling service personnel inquests. Together they make sure that everything possible is done to progress and complete investigations quickly and thoroughly. Should it be appropriate in future for an investigation to be held in Scotland instead of England and Wales, Section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides for this.

Our thanks are due to coroners and their staff for their thoroughness and compassion in these vitally important investigations. We are grateful to the Chief Coroner for his essential contribution to improving processes, and once more we thank everyone who helps and informs bereaved families at every stage of the investigation.

Repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have mainly taken place at RAF Lyneham in the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner area, and, currently, RAF Brize Norton in the Oxfordshire coroner area. To help the senior coroners for those two areas to take service personnel inquests forward without affecting the local caseload, since 2007 the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice have made joint additional funding available.

Current status of inquests

Since our last statement on 17 July there have been a further four inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations. The total of inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died on active service or who have died in the UK of injuries sustained on active service is 614. Three deaths led to no formal inquest. In one of these cases it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry in Scotland after a serviceman who had made a partial recovery died there from his injuries. The other two deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into deaths which occurred in the same incidents.

Coroners' investigations which have been opened

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 23 October, 17 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. The senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained eight, and senior coroners for areas closer to the next-of-kin are conducting the other three open coroner investigations. Nine hearing dates have been listed.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

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

We will continue to inform the House of progress.