Hoon agrees to meet soldier's widow

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Indy Politics

Geoff Hoon, Secretary of State for Defence, will meet the war widow calling for his resignation over the death of her husband in Iraq, who had been ordered to hand back his body armour because of shortages.

Mr Hoon faced fresh calls for his resignation as the controversy over Sergeant Steve Roberts, aged 33, continued.

Sgt Roberts had told his wife Samantha of his worries about being sent into battle without proper equipment and body armour, describing the situation as a "joke". While serving with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment in Iraq, Sgt Roberts was told to hand back his flak jacket because there were not enough to go around. He was shot dead days later, on 24 March last year, while trying to quell a riot in Zubayr, near Basra.

The Ministry of Defence said today: "Geoff Hoon has indicated on a number of occasions that he is willing to meet the widow of Sergeant Roberts and she herself has indicated she would like to meet him. No day has been set."

A spokesman added: "The two have met before in October. It was a private meeting."

Tony Blair was questioned over the issue yesterday amid calls for Mr Hoon to quit from Sgt Roberts' widow. Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, said: "I do not think there is any greater dereliction of duty for any Government than to send men into battle without the proper equipment. That is clearly what happened here, we know it is what happened, we know that the probability is that Sgt Roberts would not have been killed if he had had body armour, we know that he was asked to give his body armour to another soldier who was assumed to be at greater risk and we know the Government lost 200,000 pieces of body armour which could and should have been made available to our troops in the Gulf. It is a very serious state of affairs. I entirely agree with Mrs Roberts in her request that Geoff Hoon should resign."

Sgt Roberts, from Shipley, near Bradford, West Yorkshire, made the audio diary of his time in Iraq to send back to his wife Samantha. It was given to her at his funeral.

A Ministry of Defence inquiry has been launched into the death of Sgt Roberts. The MoD said it was an internal matter and that the results would not be made public.