Another tragedy unfolds................................. Soldiers 'face charges' over sergeant's death Press Association Monday June 28, 2004 Four British servicemen could face charges of unlawful killing over the death of a British tank commander in Iraq, after a lengthy investigation determined he was the victim of "friendly fire", it was reported yesterday. Sergeant Steven Roberts was the first British soldier to die in action in Iraq. His death prompted controversy after it emerged he had been told to give up plates of body armour that could have saved his life, because there were not enough to go round. An unnamed "senior source within the MoD" told the Scotland on Sunday newspaper that inquiries by the Army Prosecuting Authority (APA) had established that the rounds which killed Sgt Roberts came from a British Challenger II tank. The crew of the tank, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, will be told shortly whether they will face criminal charges over the incident, the source told the newspaper. If so, it is expected they will face trial before a military court martial. The Ministry of Defence said today that it was unable to confirm whether any charges were imminent or discuss the findings of the APA investigation. A spokesman said: "The case work is currently with the Army Prosecuting Authority and we can't pre-empt them ... We think that there will be an announcement in the next couple of weeks." The armed forces minister, Adam Ingram, told Scotland on Sunday: "As the findings are now subject to legal consideration, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this stage." Sgt Roberts's widow Samantha, who has fought a campaign to establish the truth about her husband's death, said she had not been informed that prosecutions were on the cards. She said it would be "unusual" for the MoD to allow such information to reach the public realm before informing her, as they had kept her well informed in recent months. Today the MoD insisted she would be kept informed. Mrs Roberts, from Shipley, West Yorkshire, declined to comment on any legal action until she had details of the case. But she said: "When all is said and done, he died because he didn't have his body armour, no matter who fired the shot." Sgt Roberts was shot in March 2003 when trying to quell a riot in Az Zubayr, near Basra, within days of the start of the conflict. An internal MoD report later established that he would have survived if he had been wearing ceramic plates inside his flak jacket. He had been issued with the plates, but gave them up to another soldier because his regiment did not have enough for everyone. Yesterday's reports suggest that it has now been established that the bullets that hit Sgt Roberts and an Iraqi man standing by him came from the 7.62mm guns fitted on Challengers. The unnamed MoD source was quoted as saying: "We are prepared for charges to be confirmed in the next fortnight. This has looked inevitable for quite a while, since it first became clear that he could not have been killed by any weapon normally seen on the streets in Iraq. It is inconceivable that the APA could have come up with any other recommendation." Liberal Democrat MP Paul Tyler, whose North Cornwall constituency includes Sgt Roberts's family home, said that any prosecution should not be allowed to divert attention from the more important issue of the failure to supply him with essential protective gear. Mr Tyler said: "When I took Mrs Samantha Roberts and other members of his family to meet Geoff Hoon, the secretary of state, as long ago as January 19, we made it clear that the crucial issue was the failure to ensure that Sgt Roberts was properly equipped with life-saving body armour. "Who fired the shots is far less important than the failures which made those shots fatal." He added: "I know that Sgt Roberts's family are determined that the absence of enhanced combat body armour, which we now know to have been the crucial factor, should not be swept under the ministry carpet. "For his army colleagues to be placed in this position while ministers evade responsibility is hardly likely to improve morale, or to reassure service families. "I shall be pressing Mr Hoon to fulfil his promise to meet us again once all the facts are known - and to accept once and for all his personal responsibility for the failures that led to Sgt Roberts's death."