I'll sue MoD over my son's death in Iraq, says mother

Phillip Hewett and two other soldiers died when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in Basra in 2005. His mother tells the 'IoS' the Land Rover they were using was a 'death trap'
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Indy Politics

The mother of a soldier killed in Iraq plans to take legal action against the Ministry of Defence over its failure to protect combat troops with the right equipment.

Sue Smith, whose son Phillip Hewett was killed near Basra in July 2005, says military commanders are exposing soldiers to unnecessary danger by continuing to use ageing "Snatch" Land Rovers instead of armoured vehicles. "I want them to accept that Snatch Land Rovers should not be used on patrol. These vehicles are death traps," she said yesterday.

Pte Hewett died alongside 2nd Lt Richard Shearer and Pte Leon Spicer when the vehicle they were travelling in was hit by a roadside bomb near Amarah.

An inquest this week ruled that the three soldiers from the First Staffordshire Regiment were unlawfully killed, but the Army has refused to launch a board of inquiry into the circumstances of their deaths, which it describes as an unavoidable "accident".

The inquest in Oxford heard that the three men were dispatched to Amarah in a Land Rover, even though just weeks earlier a roadside bomb had killed two soldiers near the town.

Mrs Smith said the Army told her that the men were hit by a previously unseen kind of explosive which would have penetrated even a heavily armoured Warrior vehicle. But photographs submitted to the inquest showed that the bomb entered the Land Rover through a window protected by nothing more than a steel mesh, Mrs Smith said.

"There has been no proper investigation and the truth still hasn't come out. It took 19 months to get the inquest, and all I have to show for it is a three-page report and a patronising letter from the Army saying it was an accident," Mrs Smith said.

Originally designed for use in riots in Northern Ireland, the Snatch was not designed to withstand powerful explosions, said Chris Foss, editor of Jane's Fighting Vehicles. "Snatch was developed for a specific role in Northern Ireland and it was adequate for the job, but was pretty obvious when it was deployed in Iraq that it was not enough," he said.

Visiting Basra this week, the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, announced the arrival of the first of more than 100 new Bulldog armoured vehicles in Iraq. But an MoD spokesman said that the Army would continue to use Snatch Land Rovers, which are better suited to operations in urban areas.

"A battle tank is not going to get into the streets of downtown Basra - it's too big. It's going to tear up streets, annoy everyone, and damage local infrastructure," he said.

According to Mrs Smith at least 20 servicemen have been killed in Snatch Land Rovers by roadside bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan since her son's death. She said: "I just want the Army to stop using these bloody vehicles. How many more people will have to die for them to change their minds?"