Officer close to tears as he tells soldier Jason Smith's inquest of extreme heat

'It was extremely hot, we were extremely busy, too busy, and we didn't have enough resources' says Lt Colonel Stuart Cattermull

Hellish conditions endured by British soldiers in Iraq were revealed during an inquest which opened today into the death of Private Jason Smith, 32, who died of heatstroke in 2003.

Giving evidence at the inquest, in Oxford, the soldier's former commanding officer, Lt Colonel Stuart Cattermull, was close to tears as he spoke about the extreme heat he and his men fought to survive, calling the climate "an adversary".

He broke down as he remembered the battle against the elements: "It was extremely hot, we were extremely busy, too busy, and we didn't have enough resources - be that manpower, be that equipment - to do what we were asked to do." He added: "My best resource available, as ever, were my soldiers, who never let me down."

Pte Smith, a Territorial Army soldier from Hawick, Scotland, had repeatedly complained feeling ill due to temperatures which soared to more than 50C (122F), after being deployed in June 2003.

He reported sick in August, and on the 13th of that month was found lying face down at the old athletics stadium where he was stationed with 1st Battalion, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, and was taken to hospital. He had suffered a cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead.

Pte Smith was part of a small company expected to keep the city of Al Amarah "from falling into anarchy" and the heat was a serious threat. "The environment was the hardest that I have experienced in my military career," said Lt Col Cattermull.

The senior officer described "extreme" temperatures which became worse as the tour went on, reaching more than 50C during the day and falling to the high 30s in the evening. "I remember frying an egg on a Land-Rover."

Drivers of Saxon armoured vehicles had to be "semi-naked," with soldiers pouring water on them, so they could cope with the heat and focus on driving, he added.

Official army guidance on coping with the heat, on a 'yellow card' issued to soldiers, was wrong, he said. "Five litres was not an adequate amount of water." The guidelines were "written for Salisbury Plain, not Al Amarah," he said.

The heat was so extreme that soldiers would not wear body armour at times - the risk of succumbing to heatstroke deemed more serious than that of being shot.

There was no mains electricity, no running water, and no air conditioning where the soldiers were based, and they were allowed just one shower in the morning and another at night "because that was all the water we could give them," Lt Col Cattermull admitted.

Despite the obvious need for keeping men hydrated, Dioralyte was in such short supply that one of his officers had to get his mother to send some.

And they only had one trained medic, which was "insufficient."

The officer said that Pte Smith's death came in the context of "relentless tempo of operations, stretched manpower and extreme heat".

He insisted that he understood "heat was a risk" and that they did "everything practicable to mitigate" against it.

Soldiers were put on 'forced drinking' parades before and after patrols, but it took weeks for air conditioning units, which had been requested "very early on", to arrive. They finally turned up two days after Private Smith died of heatstroke on 13 August.

The soldiers were operating in a "hot, dusty hellhole," according to written evidence from Sergeant Joseph Holmes.

Alison Thompson, assistant coroner, commented: "For everybody involved it will be very hard looking at these events ten years later." Turning to Pte Smith's mother Catherine, she said: "Mrs Smith, it is so tough on you to be here once again at a court of law, having to hear this again."

It has been a long journey for Mrs Smith, who had to wait three years before an inquest was held in 2006. The MoD behaved "as more interested in a PR exercise and covering their backs than being open and honest," she claimed. "I firmly believe that information was deliberately withheld from not only myself but also the Coroner." Mrs Smith had to fight a legal battle to get a second inquest into her son's death after it emerged that the Ministry of Defence had failed to disclose a Board of Inquiry report during the original inquest. And after a judicial review, the Supreme Court ordered another inquest in 2010 into Private Smith's death.

The new inquest, which is expected to last all week, will hear from at least a dozen witnesses and a further 17 written witness statements will be summarised.

Reaching this point has been "long and painful" and "no one should ever have to battle in the way that I have for the truth about Jason's death," said Mrs Smith.

Her son is one of six British soldiers to have died of heatstroke during the past decade. During this time, more than 1,300 soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have been hospitalised due to heat illness.

And the MoD is at the centre of a police investigation after the deaths of three soldiers from heatstroke during a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons this summer.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
newsJohn Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
News
i100
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
News
Bey can do it: Beyoncé re-enacts Rosie the Riveter's pose
newsRosie the Riveter started out as an American wartime poster girl and has become a feminist pin-up. With Beyoncé channeling her look, Gillian Orr tells her story
Life and Style
Donna and Paul Wheatley at their wedding
healthShould emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?

Some couples are allowed emergency hospital weddings, others are denied the right. Kate Hilpern reports on the growing case for a compassionate cutting of the red tape
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit