A coroner launched an angry attack on the Ministry of Defence yesterday, accusing the Government of failing the grieving family of a soldier killed by US forces in Iraq.
Making no attempt to conceal his fury, Andrew Walker, the Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner, said he could see no reason why the MoD needed more time to consider whether to release vital evidence in the case and threw out an application to adjourn the inquest into the death of L/Cpl Matty Hull for a week.
The Household Cavalry soldier was killed during the initial invasion of Iraq when American A-10 tankbuster planes twice opened fire on British soldiers despite radio calls and smoke grenade warnings. Colleagues fought to rescue L/Cpl Hull, 25, from his blazing Scimitar armoured vehicle but he died of multiple wounds.
After repeated attempts to get more information from the Americans, a tape believed to be flight data recording taken from one of the planes arrived unexpectedly at Oxford coroner's court this week. One source said it included "incriminating" dialogue and the line: "Someone's going to jail for this."
L/Cpl Hull's widow, Susan, told the coroner that she had been told "categorically" by the MoD that the recording did not exist, adding: "I think it's absolutely disgusting. We have waited four years. That this evidence has just come to light miraculously in the previous week means our time has been delayed again."
The unnamed American airmen from the US Air Force's 190th Fighter Squadron insisted in previous interviews that they had repeatedly been told there were no friendly forces on the ground as they set out on a mission to clear an area of Iraqi rocket launchers.
The MoD's lawyer, Leigh-Ann Mulcahy, told the coroner that "high-level diplomacy between US and UK governments" was needed over the release of a classified cockpit recording and requested the delay.
Demanding that the MoD seek a resolution by first thing this morning, Mr Walker said: "This is a simple matter and I simply fail to understand why it is proving so difficult to resolve.
Mr Walker, who has viewed the recording and spent most of yesterday discussing the issue in private with MoD officials, added: "At the heart of this matter is a grieving family who have already had to wait far too long for this inquest."
It was claimed that the MoD had known about the tape for several years but failed to inform the coroner. Ms Mulcahy said: "The UK is not authorised to release documents subject to US classification without US authority and the decision as to whether that authority can be given is being addressed urgently. I wish to assure you and the family that this is being very actively and urgently pursued. These are complex matters of policy and high-level diplomacy that take time to resolve."
Mr Walker responded: "I have formed the view that these two pieces of evidence [a visual and audio recording] are central to ensuring the questions are answered. This is a matter of utmost importance as at its centre is whether a coroner can be prevented from receiving evidence to assist his inquiry when the material concerned is subject to a US security classification and the authority for its release has not been given.
"I will ask that the necessary preparations are made... and expect and require that evidence is ready at 10.30 tomorrow.
"I echo the sentiments of the... family about the way they feel they have been treated. It must not be allowed to continue."Reuse content