Together with my hon. Friend the Minister for Defence Personnel, Welfare and Veterans, I present our latest joint statement on the progress of coroner investigations into the deaths of UK service personnel on active service overseas. Our armed forces demonstrate great courage, commitment and self-sacrifice in their service to our country, and it is right that they receive our heartfelt gratitude. Most of all we remember and honour those who have laid down their lives in the service of their country, and the families they leave behind.
This statement sets out the progress of investigations being held by the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, for Wiltshire and Swindon and for other coroner areas in England and Wales as at 22 May 2015.
Tables to supplement this report have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. These give details of all cases, including whether there has been or will be a service inquiry—known as a board of inquiry in the earlier years covered.
The defence inquests unit of the Ministry of Defence continues to work closely with coroners—including the dedicated cadre of coroners with special training in service personnel inquests—to make sure that everything possible is done to progress and complete investigations quickly and thoroughly. There is now provision under section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 for investigations to be held in Scotland, where appropriate, rather than in England and Wales.
We are thankful to all who are involved in the course of these investigations: to those who provide support and assistance to bereaved families; to the coroners and their staff who seek to conduct thorough investigations which put the bereaved families at their heart; and for the Chief Coroner for his leadership and oversight of the coroner service.
Repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have mainly taken place at RAF Brize Norton and RAF Lyneham. To enable the senior coroners for Oxfordshire and for Wiltshire and Swindon to conduct inquests into these deaths alongside their local case load, additional funding has been provided to both areas since 2007 by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice.
Current status of inquests
Since our last statement on 29 January 2015 there have been six inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. This brings the total of inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died on active service in Iraq or Afghanistan or who have died in the UK of injuries sustained on active service to 624. Three deaths of injured service personnel have not led to a formal inquest. Two of these were taken into consideration at inquests into other deaths which occurred in the same incidents. The third case concerned a serviceman in Scotland who made a partial recovery but later died from his injuries, and it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.
Coroners’ investigations which have been opened
As at 22 May, seven coroner investigations are open into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan.
The senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained five of these. The other two investigations are being conducted by the senior coroners for Gateshead and south Tyneside and for West Sussex, whose courts are closer to the next of kin. A pre-inquest hearing date of 2 November 2015 has been set for one of these inquests. Hearing dates have not yet been listed for the remaining six inquests.
We will continue to inform the House of progress.
Attachments can be viewed online at: