Death of a Soldier; The Mother's Story. Interview with Margaret Evison.

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  1. old_fat_and_hairy

    old_fat_and_hairy LE Book Reviewer Reviews Editor

    On Friday March 1[SUP]st[/SUP], I was privileged to talk to a most remarkable lady, Margaret Evison, author of the book ‘Death of a Soldier, aMother’s Story’and mother of Lt Mark Evison, who died in Helmand in May 2009.

    As may be thought, I expected this to be a difficult, if not harrowing, interview, however Margaret is a charming and courtly-mannered ladywho put me very quickly at ease and was willing to talk on any aspect of the book and her experiences. I appreciate that this must still be difficult for her, following the loss of her son in tragic circumstances.

    We began by talking about what was to become a bone ofcontention with Margaret; the coroner. Now, I suppose there are some who will have had experience of a coroner’s court, but a great majority may not have,nor know much about how it works. So, perhaps a brief overview may help.

    The post of coroner was first instated in the 11[SUP]th[/SUP]Century, shortly after the Norman invasion in 1066. The name ‘coroner’ comesfrom a Latin phrase ‘custos placitorumcoronae’ which means ‘to keep thepleas of the Crown’ and hence the title ‘coroner’. The post was initially alocal county official, whose primary duty was to protect the financial interestof the Crown in criminal proceedings
    . The duties were then further qualified inthe Magna Carta ( 1215) to make it more of an administrative role, rather thana judicial and enforcement role. However the judicial and enforcement sidestill holds when it comes to dead bodies.

    Any person, who is aware of a dead body in the jurisdictionof a coroner, has a legal and binding duty to report that death to the coronerand that includes bodies brought in from abroad.

    The coroner has a number of investigators, usually but notalways, ex police. These coroner’s officers investigate the death and reportback. The coroner then decides – depending on the circumstances relayed to him– whether an inquest will be required. An inquest is a court of law, and thesame rules apply there as do in any other court. Witnesses may be summoned,lying is perjury and dealt with in accordance with criminal law and there maybe powers of arrest, subpoena or search attached to the court

    A coroner must have a degree in a medical or legal field.

    A dead body, subject of a coroner’s court or enquiries maynot be buried or otherwise disposed of without release by the coroner.

    All this is to show that a coroner is a powerful official,but one with a great responsibility too. The search for the truth about the circumstances of a death is the most important part of a coroner’s work.

    Margaret Evison didn’t feel that this was the case with thedeath of her son. She felt there was obfuscation and prevarication, not onlyfrom the coroner but also from the Ministry of Defence, and she was not happy with the way the death ofher son had been handled. This dissatisfaction was one of her many reasons forwriting the book. She also found writing the book in its own way a catharticexperience.

    One of the things that has come out of the court, and thebook, has been the letters and contacts she has had with other bereavedrelatives, including one mother who rang to talk about her experience of the Inquest
    .Her son had joined the army, wanting adventure and excitement, and on his 18
    [SUP]th[/SUP]birthday he was deployed to Afghanistan.Two weeks later he was killed whilst helping to rescue a wounded comrade.
    That mother, like many others, struggled to see the sense in any of this, but has found that by talking with others then some form of balance can
    been found.

    Mrs Evison said that the coroner, in her case, who wasn’tmedically trained, seemed to struggle to understand the complicated medical andneurological reasons behind the death of her son.
    Mark was wounded in theshoulder, operated on in Helmand, brought back on life support, but was declared“brain dead” back home in the UK.She expressed disappointment at both this lack of understanding by the coroner,and the paucity of information from the Mod.
    There was a failure to enquireinto the circumstances of the shooting, and the reasons for the helicopter delay. She welcomed the new appointment of Chief Coroner, His Honour JudgeThornton QC, who would now take responsibility for overseeing the standards ofmilitary inquests and appointing specialist coroners.
    There needed to be someone who has an understanding and perhaps expertise in the confusion and difficulties of a wartime casualty.

    Yet another of Mrs Evison’s concerns was the communications muddles that were dramatically illustrated in the television documentary ‘OurWar’, the episode ‘The Lost Platoon’ being about Lt Evison and the soldiers. This will be of no surprise to those who haveserved – or are still serving- in Afghanistan.
    Mark himself also raised concerns about the difficulty in this area, and indeed others. For instance, weaponry and ammunition was hardly in short supply, yet obtaining medical supplies were difficult, and these are items that are of great importance.

    She also expresseddisappointment in the treatment of returning soldiers. PTSD is an acceptedfact, and once diagnosed, is often treated. But that can be left to charitiesand other organisations such as ‘Combat Stress’ and ‘Help for Heroes’ to take on the responsibilities, and when not diagnosed or when less serious, there can be insufficient support for very upsetting and debilitating problems

    We talked about Margaret’s visit to Afghanistan, shortly after theinquest, and – bearing in mind she is a psychologist – she was astonished a tseveral things. She was not allowed to visit Helmand,and so did not see the army in action. But the social and political ‘muddle’exercised her mind the most. She was shocked, having met local people, at the level of hatred directed toward Christianity, and commented that people are imprisoned for being Christian. She has extensive travel experience (she had just returned from Burma the day before we spoke) and has not seen such a level of religious intolerancebefore. The political map is confusing too: the Afghan people are tribal and tribal loyalties supersede any other direction. Margaret was fortunate to have Sandy Gall, the veteran newsman and Afghan authority, with her to guide andhelp her.
    We talked for around an hour and a half, and covered a great many subjects, but the one that concerns us is the death of her son, and Margaret does feel that this was a waste. She received the plaudits, the trite phrases of how he died for Queen and country, how it was a soldier’s death,what a brave and wonderful man he was, but like all mothers, wives and parents,she would much rather have had him come home, no matter what sort of personMark was.
    I have had to paraphrase much in this record, but what I would like to be seen is the dedication, the love and the devotion this ladyhas for her son. Margaret Evison is not keen on war but not necessarily anti-army, and felt that given that terrorism affects individuals in the UK in a relatively minor way, the money spent on the war in Afghanistan could have been better placed inside our own country, in education, social help and housing, and that is for many a valid argument. I cannot comment on those points, but what I can say is that Margaret Evison is a remarkable woman,someone whom I would like to have as a friend and someone who deserves an audience.
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  2. Just read the book, hard going but beautifully written, you can see the stages of mourning Mrs Evison went through

    A bit of truth and communication would stop an awful lot of the heartache, grief and anger, directed at the MOD/mil CoC

    rather than ineffectually closing up, half truths, redacted statements and especially the inept coroner experience and the controlling of witness's