19 Oct 2012

Families win right to pursue MoD over soldier deaths

Families of soldiers killed in Iraq are given permission to pursue the government for damages for allegedly failing to provide armoured vehicles or equipment that could have save their loved ones.

(above, Susan Smith, mother of deceased soldier Phillip Hewett, speaks outside the Royal Courts of Justice)

The court of appeal said the families can pursue compensation claims against the government over the deaths of several soldiers following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Today’s ruling followed a high court judge’s decision in June 2011 which said that relatives of the deceased soldiers could seek compensation against the government on grounds of negligence, but not under human rights legislation.

The Ministry of Defence appealed against that ruling, arguing that decisions about battlefield equipment are for politicians and military commanders. However, the court of appeal ruled in favour of the families.

The MoD can have no excuses now and must get on with the business of ensuring that troops are properly equipped – Shubhaa Srinivasan, lawyer

The families had also challenged the 2011 decision, arguing that they should be able to pursue the government under human rights legislation. This appeal was rejected.

Snatch Land Rover (Getty)

Shubhaa Srinivasan, a partner with law firm Leigh Day & Co, which is representing one of the families, said: “British troops should at the very least have adequate equipment and training, ranging from the very basic such as a GPS devices, to sophisticated satellite tracker systems, which the Americans had available to them.

“It seems incredible that it was often left up to soldiers themselves to buy this equipment as they felt compelled to, so as to better protect their own lives and the lives of those they were responsible for.”

Legal action was started after the deaths of a number of soldiers in a range of circumstances:

In March 2003, Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, died in a "friendly fire" incident when his Challenger two tank was hit by another tank. Two other soliders, Dan Twiddy and Andy Julien, were badly hurt.

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover (pictured, above right) was blown up. Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis, 23, in February 2006, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, in August 2007.

Ms Srinivasan added: “As a prudent employer, the MoD can have no excuses now and must get on with the business of ensuring that troops are properly equipped, if not, it can be vulnerable to negligence claims.

“The court ruling also makes it clear the MoD can no longer hide behind arguments relating to complexities in procuring equipment and allocation of scarce resources to evade a duty of care to adequately equip its servicemen and women who are being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”