Snatch Land Rovers blamed for dozens of deaths

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Snatch Land Rovers have been associated with the deaths of dozens of British troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Originally designed as a cheap and quick way of transporting troops in Northern Ireland, the lightly-armoured vehicles attracted fierce criticism for failing to protect against roadside bombs.

Special forces troops often used them because of their speed and mobility - and to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

But critics argued they were not suitable or safe for the operations they were used on.

The controversy over the Land Rovers was re-ignited at the Iraq inquiry last week when Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to defend their use.

He acknowledged the concerns of the families of soldiers killed travelling in the vehicles but insisted the choice of the equipment for particular operations was a military matter.

And he stressed every request for funding for new military vehicles had been accepted during his time as Chancellor.

During a visit to Afghanistan last weekend, officials travelling with Mr Brown said Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth would announce within weeks a £100 million investment in 200 British-built vehicles, due to arrive in Afghanistan by late 2011, to replace the Land Rovers.

They are said to be smaller and lighter than the Mastiff and Ridgeback armoured personnel carriers, which are already taking over some of the tasks of the more vulnerable Snatch.

In December 2008, the Government rejected calls for a public inquiry into the use of the vehicles in conflict.

The Ministry of Defence said it recognised the "widespread public concern" over the deaths of 37 British servicemen and women - each killed as a result of injuries sustained while travelling in Snatch Land Rovers.

But it decided an inquiry would not be the "right way to proceed".

Susan Smith, whose son died in a roadside bomb attack while on patrol in one of the vehicles in July 2005, has launched a legal challenge to force the Government to rethink the decision.

She is also among at least four families who, in separate proceedings, are seeking damages against the MoD over Snatch vehicle deaths.

Her son, Phillip Hewett, 21, a private in the 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment, was killed in the Al Amarah region of Iraq.

Retired sergeant major Nigel Simpson criticised the vehicles following the death of his son, Private Luke Simpson, 21.

Pte Simpson was killed when a roadside bomb hit his vehicle near Basra as it returned to base in February 2007.

Sgt Maj Simpson said at the time: "Luke would probably be alive today had he been in a decent vehicle, not a Snatch Land Rover, which is not appropriate for Iraq."

And an inquest into the deaths of four British soldiers, which concluded today, heard the vehicles were "not fit" for purpose.

One soldier, who cannot be named for security reasons, said: "It wasn't fit or potentially fit to do the job that we intended it to do."

Another soldier, also unidentified, said he would have recommended driving around the explosion point if the soldiers had been in "lighter and more agile" Land Rover WMIKs.

Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, Cpl Sean Robert Reeve, 28, Lance Corporal Richard Larkin, 39, and Pte Paul Stout, 31, died when their Snatch Land Rover was hit by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan in June 2008.