Relatives of soldiers killed in Afghanistan received a public apology today over the revelation that body parts had been stored away without permission.
About six organs and more than 50 tissue samples were reportedly discovered in Oxford and Wiltshire last month, after a new manager was appointed at the Military Police’s Special Investigations Branch.
Major General James Everard, Assistant Chief of the General Staff, said the samples had been taken from 30 service personnel over the past ten years. He told BBC News: “We owe a huge apology to the families involved and those who will now be feeling stressful even if it doesn't affect them.”
He added that a breakdown of proper procedure was to blame, and denied that the samples were being kept for experiments. “These were just tissue samples that we had failed to recover post-inquest and deal with in line with the families' wishes.
“It's a failure of process, nothing more than that, but we absolutely recognise this will cause distress and we're deeply sorry,” he said.
The body parts were found at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford and the tissue samples, which were kept on laboratory slides for matching or identifying the dead soldiers, were at the SIB's headquarters at Bulford Garrison in Wiltshire.
Mandy Clarke, whose son David, 25, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, told the BBC that the news had left her “shocked and totally devastated.”
She added: “I've been sobbing my heart out. I hope to God it isn't our family, I can't go through it all again.”
Heather Wood, whose husband Charles was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, said: “A year-and-a-half later, to find out potentially that Charlie's tissue or parts of his body (could be) stored just down the road from where I live is disturbing really. It's quite shocking not knowing they were ever there.”
A Royal British Legion spokesman said: “Human remains must be treated with utmost respect and accountability, not only to protect the dignity and feelings of service families, but also to preserve the integrity of the inquest process. We will be following this matter with interest.”