My hon. Friend, the Minister for Defence Personnel and Veterans, and I now present the latest of our joint statements on the progress of coroner investigations into the deaths of UK service personnel on active service overseas. We wish to express the Government’s and the nation’s continued deep sense of gratitude to the brave members of the armed forces who have served on our behalf. We particularly acknowledge the sacrifice of those who have given their lives in this service and the loved ones they have left behind.
This statement provides details on the progress of investigations conducted by the senior coroners for Oxfordshire, for Wiltshire and Swindon and for other coroner areas in England and Wales as at 26 August 2015.
There is also additional information to supplement this statement in tables which have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses and which give details of all cases, including whether there has been or will be a service inquiry—formerly known as a board of inquiry.
The defence inquests unit of the Ministry of Defence continues to work with coroners—including the specially trained cadre of coroners—to make sure that investigations are thorough and that inquests are timely and effective. Section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 now allows investigations to be held in Scotland, where appropriate.
We offer our sincere thanks to those who support and assist bereaved families; to coroners and their staff who conduct thorough investigations with such families at their heart; and to the Chief Coroner who provides leadership and oversight of the coroner service.
Our two departments have provided funding for the additional resources required by the coroners in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and Swindon since 2007 as service personnel who have lost their lives overseas have been repatriated to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. This has enabled the coroners to conduct investigations into these deaths while still dealing with their local case load.
Current status of inquests
No further inquests have been concluded into deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan since our last statement on 4 June. Therefore the total number 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 remains at 624. Three deaths of injured service personnel did not lead to a formal inquest although two of these were taken into consideration at inquests into other deaths which occurred in the same incidents. The third death was of a serviceman in Scotland who made a partial recovery but later died from his injuries, and a fatal accident inquiry was not held.
Coroners’ investigations which remain open
As at 26 August, there remain seven open coroner investigations into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan. Five of these relate to the Lynx helicopter crash on 26 April 2014 and have been retained by the senior Oxfordshire coroner. A pre-inquest hearing for this case is scheduled for 24 November 2015 with an inquest scheduled for 7 to 18 March 2016. The other two outstanding investigations, into the death of Lance Corporal James Brynin on 13 October 2013 and Sapper Adam Moralee on 5 March 2014 are being conducted by the senior coroners for West Sussex and for Gateshead and South Tyneside whose courts are closer to the next of kin. A pre-inquest hearing date of 2 October 2015 has been confirmed for Lance Corporal Brynin. Hearing dates have not yet been listed for Sapper Moralee.
An investigation is also open into the death of Private Jamie Sawyer who died while serving on the UN peace- keeping mission in Cyprus. This investigation is being conducted by HM senior coroner for Birmingham and an inquest has been scheduled for 1 to 2 December 2015.
We will continue to inform the House of progress.
A table detailing inquests into service deaths can be viewed online at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2015-09-10/HCWS184/