Diplomatic row delays verdict in inquest

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Almost four years after a British soldier was killed by American forces his family were told that they would have to endure yet another delay before hearing the full details because of wrangling between the US and UK governments.

The delay is the latest development in a long running diplomatic dispute over the US authorities' refusal to cooperate fully into the inquests of British soldiers killed by friendly fire.

Despite furious demands from the Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker, the Ministry of Defence refused yesterday to release vital evidence into the death of Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull to his inquest and asked for more time for negotiations.

L/Cpl Hull, a 25-year-old Household Cavalry soldier, was killed during the initial invasion of Iraq when American A-10 tankbuster planes twice opened fire on the British soldiers despite radio calls and smoke grenade warnings. Colleagues fought to rescue him from his blazing Scimitar armoured vehicle but he died of multiple wounds.

A tape believed to be flight data recording taken from one of the planes - said to include "incriminating" dialogue and the line: "Someone's going to jail for this." - arrived at Oxford Coroner's Court this week.

Despite the fact that L/Cpl Hull's widow, Susan, said she was told "categorically" by the MoD that such a recording did not exist, it appears that the British military Board of Inquiry has had a copy since April 2004. But yesterday Mr Walker revealed that the MoD had failed to get authorisation from the US government to release the tape.

One British officer openly called for the Americans to be brought to account. Captain Alexander

MacEwen, who suffered burns to his hands, arms and face, multiple shrapnel wounds to his right leg and a blood clot in his knee in the incident, said: "I believe that if they are brought to the inquest or made to give evidence, it will make them think twice about their actions in the future."

To date the Americans have refused to turn up at inquests into friendly fire incidents. Insiders said they had offered scant cooperation in the case of L/Cpl Hull.

Yesterday MoD lawyer Leigh-Ann Mulcahy told the coroner: "I can confirm that the US has not yet made a decision regarding the document. It is inevitably a slow process involving complex and sensitive issues and discussions continue on both sides at a high level."

Mr Walker said: "It saddens me greatly that members of the family have been put in this position." He demanded written confirmation that authorisation had been given by 9 February with a pre-inquest hearing set for a week later and the inquest on 12 March.

Mrs Hull said afterwards: "It's just very disappointing, it's like being faced with the inevitable. I would like to think that enough pressure has been applied for this to happen, for people to realise that it's morally right."