Deaths of Service Personnel Overseas

Justice written statement – made on 14th May 2013.

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Photo of Helen Grant Helen Grant The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities

My right hon. Friend the Minister for the Armed Forces and I wish to make the latest of our quarterly statements to the House to report progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel on active service overseas. Once again we want to record our deep gratitude to and admiration for all our service personnel who have served in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. Their determination, their professionalism and their courage on behalf of us all have been totally dependable. We remember those service personnel who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and their families left behind. We particularly remember the families of the four service personnel who have given their lives since our last statement in January.

In this statement we give details of inquests conducted by the Oxfordshire coroner, the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner and other coroners in England and Wales. This statement gives the position at 6 May 2013.

We have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses providing additional information to supplement this statement. The tables show the status of all current cases and include information about cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been held or has been directed to be held.

Our Departments continue to work together to improve our processes and ensure that they are as effective and timely as possible. As we have previously informed the House, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales is in post and will have a number of specific powers and duties in relation to service personnel inquests. Section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into force last year and enables deaths of service personnel killed abroad on active duty to be investigated in Scotland, where this is appropriate. The remainder of the chief coroner’s powers are due to come into force this summer.

We will continue to support the coroners who are conducting inquests into the deaths of service personnel. We are sincerely grateful to coroners, their staff and all who help and support bereaved families throughout the inquest process.

Since October 2007 both Departments have made funding available for additional resources for the coroners for Wiltshire and Swindon and for Oxfordshire. This is to help the coroners conduct the inquests of service personnel who have been repatriated to airbases in their districts. These are RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, the airbase for repatriations from 1 April 2007 to 31 August 2011, and RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, where repatriations have taken place since 1 September 2011. The funding prevents any backlog of inquests and helps the coroners to balance the service personnel inquests within their community workload.

Current status of inquests

Since we made our last statement there have been 11 inquests into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. A total of 569 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who have fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan or have died in the UK from injuries they sustained in those operations. There are three cases where no formal inquest has been held. In one case, a serviceman died from his injuries in Scotland, and it was decided that a fatal accident inquiry would not be held. In the other two cases, the death was taken into consideration at inquests into the deaths of other service personnel who died in the same incidents.

Open inquests

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 6 May 2013, there are 44 open inquests into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan. Three of these inquests relate to deaths in the last six months.

The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner has retained nine of the open inquests and the Oxfordshire coroner has retained 19. Coroners closer to the next of kin are conducting the remaining 16 inquests. Two hearing dates have been set.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There are five open inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured but died of their injuries. Two hearing dates have been set. When investigations into the remaining three deaths are completed, they will be listed for hearing.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.