A mother's story on a soldier's right to life: 'Initially, I just got blanked and treated like a fool by everybody I met'


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The Independent Online

Sue Smith can barely remember the day she learnt her only son had been killed, the repatriation of his body through RAF Brize Norton or his funeral. Those days are simply a blur of pain.

"It is like your heart has been shattered and put back together but there are bits missing," she said. "You know those Chinese lanterns that light up the sky, that's how he lit up a room. It was magical. I knew I would never keep him for long. He was too perfect."

At the age of 21, Private Phillip Hewett was killed when a roadside bomb ripped through his armoured Snatch Land Rover, a vehicle so vulnerable to explosions that it would later be withdrawn from the combat zone.

It was at his inquest that Mrs Smith, 51, a community care worker for elderly and disabled residents near her home in Tamworth, Staffordshire, decided to take on the might of the Ministry of Defence.

Insisting her son had not been properly protected by the vehicle, she tried in vain to get a board of inquiry before pursuing the matter through the courts.

Over the years she has endured many setbacks, but each time vowed to fight on. After the High Court initially struck out her human rights' claim last year, she insisted she would appeal, adding: "Phillip was at all times a British citizen and subject to the orders of his superiors which is why he was in a Snatch Land Rover in the first place. He knew they were unsafe and he was scared for his life, but he was a true soldier and he obeyed orders and this cost him his life.

"If Phillip had known the MoD was going to wash it's hands of responsibility for his safety the moment he was sent to war I don't think he would have gone. Fair is fair."

Yesterday she added: "Initially, I just got blanked and treated like a fool by everybody, but I decided I would persevere. I wouldn't say it has taken over my life, but it has put a lot of things on hold. I have just plodded on. I know the powers that be would rather I just go away but that is not going to happen."