Soldiers' deaths 'down to lack of basic equipment'

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The Independent Online

Two coroners criticised the Ministry of Defence yesterday after hearing that the deaths of three British soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq could have been prevented had they been better equipped.

eparate inquests were told of troops being denied potentially life-saving equipment – including night-vision goggles, weaponry and armoured vehicles. David Masters, the Wiltshire coroner, demanded a review of military spending after the deaths in Iraq last August of Lance Sergeant Chris Casey and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath.

Meanwhile, the assistant coroner for Oxfordshire, Andrew Walker, accused the MoD of an "unforgivable" breach of soldiers' trust over the death of Captain James Philippson, who was killed in a firefight with the Taliban in Afghanistan on 11 June 2006.

The troops in Afghani-stan, from 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, were "completely outgunned" in the battle and had repeatedly complained about their poor night-vision equipment and weapons, the hearing in Oxford was told. Even after the death of Capt Philippson, 29, replacement kit was not delivered. "[The soldiers] were defeated not by the terrorists, but by the lack of basic equipment," Mr Walker said.

Recording a narrative verdict and ruling that Capt Philippson was unlawfully killed, Mr Walker added: "To send soldiers into a combat zone without basic equipment is unforgivable, inexcusable and a breach of trust between soldiers and those who govern them."

Following the inquest, Capt Philippson's father, Anthony, of St Albans, Hertfordshire, said: "I do hold the MoD responsible for James's death but it is not just the MoD, it goes much deeper than that. The Treasury and the then chancellor, Gordon Brown, will be really to blame for what happened. The MoD was starved of cash by the chancellor. Soldiers should never be sent out under-equipped, the coroner made that clear."

The Defence minister, Bob Ainsworth, acknowledged there was a delay in the provision of night goggles and said: "This is not the first time delays in the supply chain have caused casualties in theatre. I cannot promise that it will be the last. We are operating in very difficult, very complicated circumstances. Getting supplies to the frontline in a difficult theatre will always be difficult."

The MoD said in a statement: "It was deeply regrettable that a failure to follow the correct staff procedures between a requesting unit and headquarters Helmand Task Force resulted in a 25-day delay in providing night-vision goggles. The department has accepted and implemented all of the board of inquiry's recommendations."

The second inquest, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, heard that a request for Mastiffs – heavily armoured vehicles – made on the day the British soldiers in Iraq died, was denied because the vehicles were already in use on another mission.

Lance Sergeant Casey, 27, and Lance Corporal Redpath, 22, of 1st Battalion, Irish Guards, were hit by a home-made explosive while escorting a supply convoy between Kuwait and Basra.

Recording verdicts that both men were unlawfully killed, the coroner said: "It is my belief that it is imperative that our forces, whether they be in Iraq or Afghanistan, are given the best available equipment."

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