Victory for soldier's mother over vehicle inquiry

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The Independent Online


The mother of a soldier killed in a Snatch Land Rover in Iraq has won the first round of a legal battle to persuade the Government to hold a public inquiry into the use of " inadequately protected vehicles" in the combat zone.



Susan Smith, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, was given permission to seek a High Court judicial review relating to past use of the vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. Her 21-year-old son Phillip Hewett, a private in the 1st Battalion Staffordshire Regiment, died on July 16 2005, in the Al Amarah region of Iraq in a roadside bomb attack on a patrol of three armoured Snatch Land Rovers. Two other soldiers also died in the incident.

However, But Mr Justice Mitting refused her leave to challenge a Ministry of Defence decision not to hold an inquiry into present and future deployment of Snatch Land Rovers - a decision he described as "unimpeachable" in the courts.

The Snatch was originally designed as a cheap and quick way of transporting troops in Northern Ireland. It has been heavily criticised for failing to protect against roadside bombs following a series of deaths, around 38 in all, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Justice Mitting said today that if a full inquiry was eventually held into past deployment, three issues could be investigated.

They are ---should different equipment, such as the more heavily armoured Cougar Mastiff, have been procured and deployed in 2005 and 2006. If so, could the deaths of some or all of the soldiers have been avoided. And, if this was the case, why was the equipment why was that equipment not procured and deployed.

Mrs Smith, whose case is supported by the families of other soldiers killed in similar incidents, said after the ruling: "I am delighted." She added: "It is only the first stage, but I am just glad that someone is listening. It isn't just me. You have got three other families here who have lost their sons, all in similar circumstances."

Only this week a coroner said he would be writing to the defence secretary to call for a review of the use of light armoured vehicles as well as the insufficient number of helicopters in Afghanistan.

Darren Salter, deputy coroner for Exeter and greater Devon, was speaking after the inquest into the death of Trooper Jack Sadler, 21, of the Honourable Artillery Company, who was killed when his Weapons Mounted Installation Kit (WMIK) Land Rover – which was leading a convoy carry heavy equipment - hit a mine north of Sangin in December 2007 – two and half years after Pte Hewett was killed.

Mr Salter, who ruled the young soldier was unlawfully killed while on active service, said he would be writing to Bob Ainsworth, adding: "I am reporting the facts and findings of this inquest to the secretary of state for defence, requesting a review and a response. It is difficult to imagine a more difficult terrain, but there is an ever-increasing threat to slow moving convoys. These vehicles clearly have their uses, the question is slow moving convoys make it a considerable danger to those at the front."

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