Calls for an inquiry into deaths of Red Caps issued with 'few bullets'

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Geoff Hoon, the Secretary of State for Defence, is facing demands for a full military board of inquiry into the deaths of six Royal Military Police killed by a mob in Iraq after reports that they had been issued with as few as 20 bullets apiece.

Reg Keys, whose son, Lance Corporal Thomas Keys, was one of the servicemen who died, expressed fury yesterday at claims that the patrol had to hand back ammunition and medical supplies days before they were killed.

Nicholas Soames, the Shadow Defence Secretary also entered the dispute, demanding a formal board of inquiry into the deaths of the soldiers, known as Red Caps, which were the largest single loss of life suffered by the Army in one day since the Gulf War in 1991.

The Ministry of Defence refused to comment on reports in the News of the World that the Army's Special Investigations Branch had found the men each had between 20 and 60 rounds of ammunition at the start of their mission. But sources insisted that the soldiers would have had about 50 rounds of ammunition when on patrol.

The six military policemen, all serving with 156 Provost Company, were manning a small police station in the town of Al Majir Al Kabir, 120 miles north of Basra, last June. They were helping restore order in the area, but were ambushed and attacked by an angry mob believed to be loyal to Saddam Hussein.

Mr Keys, of Llanuwchllyn, near Bala, in north Wales, said: "It was vital the men should be quite well armed in that environment. If they came under attack en route from one place to another, they needed to be able to defend themselves. Thomas has been let down all along the line. We want closure, we want a Board of Inquiry with a family presence so we can find out exactly what happened."

Mr Soames said he would be writing to Mr Hoon to demand a formal board of inquiry. He said: "The Army continues to hide behind the requirement for there to be a Special Investigations Branch Inquiry. That has gone on for eight months, which is quite long enough. The MoD needs to order a board of inquiry, which is a statutory body set up by the Army which will investigate from beginning to end what happened."

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment. A spokeswoman said: "The investigation is ongoing and it would be inappropriate to pre-empt it and talk about it."