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Service Personnel: Deaths

Volume 591: debated on Thursday 29 January 2015

Together with my hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces, with responsibility for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, I present the latest of our joint statements in which we report progress with coroner investigations into the deaths of UK service personnel resulting from active service overseas. Once again we take the opportunity to honour our armed forces and to thank every one of them for all that they willingly give on behalf of us all. Most of all we remember those who have sacrificed their lives, and the families who have to try to live without them.

Our statement gives the position at 23 January 2015 on open investigations conducted by the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroner areas in England and Wales.

Once again we have placed tables of supplementary information in the Libraries of both Houses. These show the status of all cases, including whether there has been or will be a service inquiry—known during the earlier years covered as a board of inquiry.

The Ministry of Defence’s Defence inquests unit continues to assist coroners—including a cadre of coroners who have had special training in handling service personnel inquests—to make sure that everything possible is done to progress and complete investigations quickly and thoroughly. If on any future occasion it would be appropriate for an investigation into the death of a UK service person resulting from active service overseas to be held in Scotland rather than England or Wales, section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 makes provision for this.

Coroners and their staff have to combine compassion and rigour, carry out a determined search for the truth with sensitivity and understanding. We thank them for all their work on service personnel deaths. Again we must thank the Chief Coroner for his work with coroners to improve processes, and once more we express our sincere gratitude to everyone who supports and informs bereaved families throughout the investigation.

Since 2007 the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice have jointly made additional funding available to assist the senior coroners for Oxfordshire and for Wiltshire and Swindon. Repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have mainly taken place within those coroner areas, at RAF Brize Norton and RAF Lyneham respectively. The additional funding enables the senior coroners to conduct service personnel inquests in balance with the local case load.

Current status of inquests

Since our last statement on 30 October 2014, Official Report, column 30WS, there have been four inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations. They bring 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 to 618. No formal inquest has been held into three deaths of injured service personnel in Scotland. Two of these deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into deaths which happened in the same incidents. In the third case a serviceman had made a partial recovery but died from his injuries, and it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Coroners’ investigations which have been opened

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 23 January, 13 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, while the senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained five. Senior Coroners for areas closer to the next of kin are handling the other two open coroner investigations. Six hearing dates have been listed.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.

Tables detailing inquests into service deaths can be viewed as attachments online at: