Early inquest gives hope to 'insulted' families of redcaps killed by Iraqi mob

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The Independent Online

A coroner's inquest will be held in Britain within months into the deaths of the six redcaps killed by an angry mob in Iraq. Families of the men feared the inquest would be delayed indefinitely for the criminal court in Iraq to finish its own investigations.

A coroner's inquest will be held in Britain within months into the deaths of the six redcaps killed by an angry mob in Iraq. Families of the men feared the inquest would be delayed indefinitely for the criminal court in Iraq to finish its own investigations.

But Ministry of Defence sources confirmed last night that the inquest will be held before the criminal case is fully investigated in Iraq. The Oxfordshire coroner could open the inquest into the deaths of the six Royal Military Police officers in May or June. He will be able to call witnesses, including the men's officers and MoD figures.

Families of the men who have been denied a public inquiry into operational failures that led to them being caught by a mob in a police station welcomed the inquest. But they protested that a military tribunal of inquiry produced a "whitewash" that avoided disciplinary action being taken against any officers.

Reg Keys, father of murdered L/Cpl Thomas Richard Keys, 20, from Bala, north Wales, said: "The families feel we are the victims of a whitewash and a cover-up to protect careers of certain individuals."

He said the town of Majjar in eastern Iraq where the men died was a "powder-keg waiting to explode". Reading a statement for all six families, he said the men were poorly equipped, although the Army had been warned the area was dangerous.

Senior officers involved in the incident had been exonerated and promoted, he added. "The findings by the Army that no officers are to be made accountable following a catalogue of blunders is an insult to the families of these six men," he continued. Last week, the Army said it had decided not to discipline anyone over the deaths.

The board of inquiry report found the killings "could not have been reasonably prevented". But after being briefed by the MoD on the findings, the sister of one of the men, Adele Cox, from Church Gresley, Derbyshire, said: "It was a catalogue of errors that led to the... deaths. This is why we have to get to the truth."

Pat Long, whose 24-year-old son, Cpl Paul Graham Long, was among the redcaps, said: "It has been sheer hell. Nothing helps really. No matter what anybody says, it can't take the hurt away."

Tony Hamilton-Jewell, 57, from Eastbourne, whose brother Simon died, accused the Army of a flawed inquiry system. He said: "The thing now is we can't get any of the boys back so we have to look to the future of the Army. Negligence is rife in the Army, but they won't admit it." The inquiry found one contributory factor was the men did not have radios which would work in al-Maja Al Kabir, near Basra in southern Iraq, where they were attacked by 400 Iraqis. The British Bowman communications system will be 13 years late by the time all three armed services are equipped with the modern digital replacement in 2008. Americans had a fully digitised system years ago and, in 2003, fought in Iraq with a radio network far superior to Britain's.

The MoD announced this week that the Army's first hi-tech digitally tuned brigade was being sent to Iraq with a new radio that is supposed to provide every soldier with secure and clear communications.