Plans to keep the identities of SAS fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan secret were in tatters last night, following a coroner's landmark decision to allow the naming of two troopers killed in a Puma helicopter crash in Iraq in November 2007.
The Hereford coroner David Halpern revoked an order stopping publication of the soldiers' names. His earlier prohibition order under the Contempt of Court Act set a precedent which imposed a blanket ban on identifying Special Air Service and Special Boat Service casualties.
The Ministry of Defence, acting on behalf of the Director of Special Forces, had sought to impose the restrictions on grounds of national security, the human rights of bereaved families, and aspects of common law. However, the ministry has conceded their position was untenable after lengthy legal consultations.
The development allows Lee Fitzsimmons and John Battersby, the two SAS members who died in the helicopter crash at Salman Pak, to be identified. A third SAS soldier, Nicholas Brown, 34, killed in a fire-fight in Baghdad four months ago, can also be named. Two other SAS members, Major James Stenner and Sergeant Norman Patterson, were killed in Baghdad on New Year's Day 2004 in a car crash.
Simon McKay, a solicitor from the firm McKay Law, acting for Trooper Fitzsimmons' family, said: "They are obviously very, very upset and trying to come to terms with their loss. They have followed the legal case and decided, after the order was lifted, to put their views on record." The Ministry of Defence said it had no comment to make on the matter.
The military has shrouded in secrecy the identities of SAS and SBS personnel. This policy has been particularly prevalent in Iraq, where Special Forces have often been involved in action with American forces outside the British-controlled south.
Trooper Fitzsimmons was 26 when he died. He applied to join the Royal Marines while still at school, gaining entry at the second attempt to join 42 Commando in 1999 aged 17 and transfer to 45 Commando in 2004. He saw active service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Trooper Fitzsimmons's mother, Jacqui Auty, described recent months as "absolute hell". She said: Nobody wants to die at a young age, but Lee wouldn't have shied away from doing his duty."
Identities of the fallen SAS men
Brown, of 22 SAS, died in a firefight with Shia fighters in Baghdad on 26 March this year fighting alongside US forces which had targeted the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. He was said to have been part of a snatch squad sent to arrest a senior militia commander which ran into an ambush.
Lee Fitzsimmons and John Battersby
Fitzsimmons, 26, and Battersby were killed when their RAF Puma helicopter crashed near the Baghdad suburb of Salman Pak. They had been part of a team which had been investigating reports that insurgents had been collecting material from Salman Pak, a weapons site and laboratory during Saddam Hussein's time. The crash, in which 12 others were injured including two other members of the SAS, was not, it was found, due to enemy fire.
James Stenner and Norman Patterson
Major Stenner, 30, and Sergeant Patterson, 28, originally of the Welsh Guards and the Cheshire Regiment, were killed in a road accident in Baghdad after attending a meeting with American soldiers engaged in hunting members of Saddam Hussein's regime.Reuse content