Inquests into the Deaths of Service Personnel

Justice written statement – made on 31st October 2013.

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Photo of Shailesh Vara Shailesh Vara The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

The Under-Secretary of State for Defence, with responsibility for defence personnel, welfare and veterans, my hon. Friend Anna Soubry, and I wish to make our latest quarterly statement to the House reporting progress with inquests into the deaths of service personnel on active service overseas. We begin by expressing once again our profound thanks and admiration to our service personnel who have served us all in the Iraq and Afghanistan operations. On behalf of the Government and the nation, we wish to pay tribute to those service personnel who have given their lives for our peace and security. Our thoughts are with all their families and loved ones.

This statement gives information about coroner investigations and inquests conducted by the senior coroner for Oxfordshire, the senior coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon and other coroners in England and Wales. The statement shows the position at 22 October 2013.

To supplement this statement, we have provided additional information about the status of all current cases in tables which we have placed in the Libraries of the Houses. The tables include information about cases where a board of inquiry or a service inquiry has been or is to be held.

As part of his powers and duties which came into force on 25 July 2013, the Chief Coroner for England and Wales has created a specialist group of 11 coroners to conduct coroner investigations and inquests into some service personnel deaths relating to active service, including preparation and training for active service. All the coroners in the group will receive further specialist training, beginning in November. The Chief Coroner and the specialist coroners will continue to work with the Ministry of Defence’s defence inquests unit, which assists coroners to complete service personnel inquests thoroughly and as quickly as possible.

The Chief Coroner has also met the Lord Advocate and they have agreed a protocol for the provisions of section 12 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. As we have previously reported, this section came into force last year and enables deaths of service personnel killed abroad on active duty to be investigated in Scotland where appropriate.

We offer our thanks and support to the Chief Coroner and to coroners and their staff in this work of such importance to us all. We are also grateful to all the other people who support and inform bereaved families through the inquest process.

Our two Departments have made extra funding available to the coroners in Wiltshire and Swindon and in Oxfordshire since October 2007. Most repatriations of service personnel who have died overseas have been to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire and, currently, RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The additional resources enable those coroners to progress the service personnel inquests while still handling the caseload of the coroner area.

Current status of inquests

Since our last statement a further 20 inquests have been concluded into the deaths of service personnel on operations in Iraq or Afghanistan. In total, there have been 593 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan or have sadly died after returning to the UK of injuries sustained on active service. Three deaths have led to no formal inquest. Two of these deaths were taken into consideration at inquests into the deaths of other service personnel who died in the respective incidents. The third case is of a serviceman who died from his injuries in Scotland, where it was decided not to hold a fatal accident inquiry.

Open inquests

Deaths in Afghanistan

As at 22 October 2013, 25 coroner investigations are open into the deaths of service personnel in Afghanistan, and one further coroner investigation into the recent death of Lance Corporal James Brynin is due to be opened.

The senior coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon has retained nine of the open coroner investigations, while the senior coroner for Oxfordshire has retained seven. Senior coroners nearer to the next of kin have accepted jurisdiction in the remaining nine coroner investigations. Two hearing dates have been set.

Deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There are three open coroner investigations into deaths of service personnel who returned home injured but have sadly died of their injuries. One hearing date has been set. The other two cases will be listed for inquest hearing when investigations into the deaths have been completed.

We will continue to inform the House of progress.