Troops inquest backlog continues to grow

Discussion in 'Current Affairs, News and Analysis' started by Skynet, Oct 30, 2007.

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    Slur on British 'Iraq and Afghan' troop heroes as inquest backlog just keeps on growing

    By MATTHEW HICKLEY - More by this author »

    Last updated 30th October 2007

    The backlog of inquests on British troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan is still growing, the Government admitted yesterday.

    A total of 253 servicemen and women have died on operations since 2001 but almost half their families are still waiting for inquests.

    For many it will be years before they learn the full facts about how their loved ones died.

    The latest figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal that 126 cases are stuck in the legal process - meaning the backlog has risen sharply from 86 last May when ministers first conceded there was a serious problem and promised increased funding.

    A total of 253 servicemen and women have died in operations since 2001

    Although extra coroners and staff have been appointed, officials admit that the sheer number of troops being killed means they are unable to keep up with the demand for proper investigations and legal hearings.

    The delay in providing proper answers for bereaved families was one of the issues highlighted in the Royal British Legion's "Broken Covenant" campaign, aiming to improve the treatment of the armed forces in the UK.

    Some families have had to wait more than four years for inquests.

    The oldest case currently being heard dates from 2004.

    Huge delays built up after the 2003 invasion of Iraq because the bodies of all military fatalities were flown into RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, meaning responsibility for inquests lay with the local coroner.

    With inquiries and hearings taking weeks or months in each case, the system was swamped.

    The Home Office and Ministry of Defence spent months arguing over who should provide extra cash to speed it up.

    It was only after a public outcry that ministers made more money available.

    Three extra coroners were appointed to tackle the Oxford backlog last year and around £120,000 has been spent hiring more staff.

    Other measures aimed at cutting the backlog include flying bodies home to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, shifting the burden to a new area.

    More cases are also being sent to coroners in soldiers' home towns.

    But the rapidly-mounting death toll from intense fighting in Afghanistan and bomb attacks in Iraq, has meant the Government's efforts have not been enough.

    An official statement from junior Justice Minister Bridget Prentice yesterday avoided any mention of the backlog, but the ministry confirmed that 126 deaths out of 253 had not yet been dealt with.

    A spokesman said: "We have taken serious steps to tackle the backlog in Oxfordshire and prevent a similar backlog building up in Wiltshire.

    "Subject to events, we're hopeful that the backlog will now start to come down."

    At one Oxford inquest earlier this year coroner Sir Richard Curtis apologised to families left in a legal limbo and described the delays as "terrible" and "quite, quite unacceptable".

    Inquest hearings have proved vital for many families, giving them the only chance to force officials at the Defence Ministry or the Pentagon in Washington to provide information.

    Sue Freeth, director of welfare at the Royal British Legion, said: "The further promised resources do not seem to have had an effect as yet.

    "As part of our Honour the Covenant campaign, the Legion called for independent legal advice, representation and advocacy for all families, at public expense.

    "So far we have heard nothing further from the Government on this.

    "The lack of support for bereaved families must only compound their distress, particularly at this time of national remembrance."

    Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said: "Despite Government promises to prevent a build-up, we now have the highest backlog ever.

    "It is clear there is still a shortfall in resources to cope with the rate at which we are losing service personnel. Ministers must deliver on their promises to get this sorted."

    The long wait

    Flight Sergeant Bob O' Connor: The inquest will open more than three years after his RAF Hercules was shot down
    By the time an inquest opens on Flight Sergeant Bob O'Connor and nine other servicemen, it will be more than three years since their RAF Hercules was shot down in Iraq.

    The need for a military inquiry, and secrecy concerns about RAF technology, mean a hearing cannot start until next year.
    The transport plane came down in January 2005 after gunfire pierced a fuel tank, which exploded and blew off a wing.

    It was the biggest single loss of British lives in the conflict.

    The families want to know if the plane was fitted with flame-retardant foam to protect the tanks, and how much the pilots and navigators were told about the dangerous area they were crossing.

    There is confusion about what is causing the delay.

    Coroner David Masters says Defence Ministry officials are still checking witness interviews and crash reports to decide what to block under the Official Secrets Act. The ministry claims the coroner is still reading the reports of its board of inquiry.
  2. Yet another platitude will come out from ministers I have no doubt. It reminds me of the old saying where there is a will there is a way. The way is more money and resources and this will not be forthcoming. Platitudes are cheaper.
  3. Why aren't the inquests done in the Town of the registered next of kin? It is clear that the current system is failing and causing even more needless trauma and emotional suffering to the bereaved.

    Is it because the government is using control and spin to limit the damage to them that fair and proper inquests would bring?
  4. It is now 26 months since my son died. It is not the Coroner holding the Inquest up, it is the MOD, while they pontificate over the Board of Inquiry Report.
  5. I'm truly sorry to hear of your loss. Nothing any of us could say on here would be adequate.

    We do however share your feelings regarding the MOD. I usually consider civilian interference in operational matters to be unwise. When it comes to inquests however, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that inquests are dealt with in as speedy a manner as possible.

    I have no doubt that the grieving process is made much much worse by the current shameful state of affairs.

    My heart goes out to all of the next of kin.
  6. Can I just ask and it may bring some flak my way but I have to ask!!! Im sure one or two arrsers also want to ask but wont..anyway

    How many inquests have thier been for all the lads who have been killed in NI? Anyone know?


    How many inquests have thier been for the lads who have been killed on ops since WW2

    Before the wobbly heads shout "whats your point" point is, why so many inquests??, its awful that eveyone concerned has been killed, thats not in question...but the volume of inquests concerned?? Is this the real point of the blame culture we live in??

    Is it because its an overwhelming view that Iraq and Afganistan are not 'popular' operations? What about all the others before this?

    Im not after a bite here, and I feel for every family who have been affected by a loss..but Im just trying to get my head round all this

    Here is a Hansard question to the very same:

    Mr. Salmond: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many inquests remain to be heard in relation to members of Her Majesty's armed forces who lost their lives as a result of military duties in Iraq (a) since 2003 in total, (b) in 2004 and (c) in 2005; and in how many cases an inquest has not been concluded a year after death.

    Mr. Ingram [holding answer 8 December 2005]: Since 2003 a total of 98 British personnel have lost their lives in support of Operation Telic with 70 inquests still outstanding.

    In 2004, 22 British Military personnel lost their lives with 15 inquests still outstanding

    As at 7 December 2005, 23 British Military personnel have died during 2005; all inquests remain outstanding.

    13 Dec 2005 : Column 1878W

    A total of 65 inquests have not been concluded a year after death.

    The Coroner is under remit to conduct an independent inquest into reported deaths of a violent, natural or unknown cause, including those of military personnel. The Ministry of Defence continues to assist the Coroner as necessary.
  7. The inquests have to take place in Oxford, as the point of entry for all fallen servicemen is BZN.

    What compounded the issue was the fact that the Oxfordshire Coroner and Assistant Coroner both resigned because of stress - the workload became incredible. Think how many deaths they would have to investigate during a 'normal' year.

    Having attended an inquest last month, it is my understanding that there is only the Deputy Assistant Coroner dealing with these cases at the moment, which is clearly not good enough.

    My experience also points, alas, to the MOD as the cause of the delay. It takes months and months for the evidence to be released to the families and what they do get is far from satisfactory.

    I cannot see this improving in the short term - but that is unacceptable to the families, and rightly so.

  8. This uncaring rule that inquests must be held at the point of entry is ridiculous and places yet more unnecessary and avoidable stress on the NOK.

    The current position is untenable and MUST be changed.
  9. I have just read some information today that the Coroners have power to transfer jurisdiction to another Coroner nearer to the next of kin where possible, and this has apparently been happening for some time.
  10. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    This might help:
  11. I'm sure the inquest into the Nimrod fatalities were held in Scotland, as most of those boys were from RAF Kinloss and their bodies were flown into that airhead.
  12. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    Not so I'm afraid. The agreement was that although the bodies were flown into Kinross the Inquest would be held in Oxforshire with all the others.
    One slight problem is that Scotland do not have an Inquest in the English sense but a Fatal Accident Inquiry:

    The MOD do not like FAIs, remember the stink when the FAI into the Kintyre Chinook accident was at odds with the MOD Board of Inquiry.
  13. So does anyone know just what the government is doing at the moment to speed these inquests up? I suppose it will just be platitudes they are cheaper.
  14. Today's Scotsman, LINK

  15. oldbaldy

    oldbaldy LE Moderator Good Egg (charities)
    1. Battlefield Tours

    I posted that just above Hackle. It would interesting to know if they are taking about an English inquest taking place in Scotland or a Scottish FAI.