Hoon and the war of words over body armour

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Indy Politics

On 14 May last year, a month after the coalition's victory in Iraq, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, was called to appear before the House of Commons Defence Committee.

Still basking in the glory of that success, Mr Hoon was uncompromising when he was asked about soldiers' complaints that they were not properly equipped. It was a performance that will come back to haunt him:

There may have been the odd person who did not get the right- sized pair of boots. There may have been the odd soldier who one day did not get his lunchtime ration pack. There may have been the odd soldier who did not like his ready-to-eat meal. There is not the slightest suggestion, however, that any of the stories that appeared so routinely in our newspapers stood up to detailed analysis against what was delivered.

I checked routinely with the Chiefs of Staff whether they had those sorts of complaints [about kit shortages], and they assured me at every stage that there were no such complaints. There was sufficient clothing and protective equipment in theatre to deal with a force of this size.

I have talked to them [the service logisticians]. I do not judge them to be people who would dissemble... [they] were clear that there were not those kinds of difficulties.

Geoff Hoon gives evidence to the House of Commons Defence Committee on 14 May 2003

I was aware that we did not have the body armour - we did not think we had the body armour - where we wanted it, in all cases, so we did a major redistribution and it is very hard to do a major redistribution ... while actually conducting an operation.

Major General Robin Brims, UK Land Component Commander, gives evidence to the same committee on 25 June

We were aware of the problem over the plates for the body armour ... there was a conscious decision on the ground to redistribute to ensure that those going to be going out of the armoured vehicles... would be issued with the body armour with the plates [and] those who did not have the plates actually were inside armoured vehicles and were either drivers or gunners.

Lieutenant-General John Reith, Chief of Joint Staff Operations, Permanent Joint Headquarters, giving evidence to the same committee on 9 July