MoD wants soldier payouts blocked

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Government lawyers asked a High Court judge today to block families' attempts to claim compensation for British soldiers killed in Iraq.







Relatives of four soldiers killed in separate incidents say the Ministry of Defence failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives.



But the MoD said the claims should be "struck out" because such vehicles and equipment were not available when the soldiers died, and argued that "complex" decisions about military equipment should be left to politicians and commanders not judges.



Lawyers said the hearing in London would last three days, although judge Mr Justice Owen is expected to reserve judgment.



James Eadie QC, for the MoD, told the court the compensation claims related to an incident in which a British Challenger tank opened fire on another British Challenger tank, after an officer became "disorientated", and incidents in which soldiers died when Snatch Land Rovers hit improvised bombs.



Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, of Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, died from "friendly fire" in March 2003 after his Challenger 2 tank was hit by another Challenger 2 tank.



Private Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover was blown up. Private Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, died after a similar incident in February 2006 and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, died following a similar explosion in August 2007.







Mr Eadie told the court that families were alleging that the two tanks involved in the "friendly fire" incident should have been fitted with "tactical safety equipment" - "target identity" or "situation awareness" devices.



He said at the time the UK was looking to procure "battlefield identification systems" but the programme was in a developmental stage and not available.



Mr Eadie said families were also alleging that soldiers killed in Snatch Land Rovers should have been travelling in vehicles with tougher armour.



He said there was a "long-running" procurement process going on but such vehicles were either not available to UK forces or not available to all commanders everywhere.



The MoD argued that decisions about the procurement of military equipment were "complex" and could not be decided by judges.



"Should the court decide this issue? My submission is plainly not," Mr Eadie told the judge.



"They are political decisions not legal decisions."



He added: "How is the court to decide any such issues? There is, we submit, no sensible standard or yardstick."













Families are arguing that the MoD should have ensured that tanks were "properly equipped" with technology or equipment which would "on the balance of probabilities" have prevented the "friendly fire" incident - and also ensured that "vehicle recognition training" was in place for troops.

Relatives also claim that the MoD had put soldiers at "unnecessary and unreasonable risk" by providing "poorly armoured" Snatch Land Rovers when better-armoured vehicles - such as the "Cougar", used by American troops - were available.



Lawyers for relatives say the compensation claims do raise a legal question and "complex factual issues" relating to the question of whether the MoD has a "duty of care" to soldiers in such circumstances.



They say such a claim should not be blocked and argue that a court should consider whether soldiers "should be deprived of all rights under the law of negligence simply because they sustain an injury while engaged in combat".



Lawyers argue that soldiers "who risk their lives in combat can properly expect to be equipped and trained to a reasonable standard and that a failure to do so gives rise to a remedy in law".

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