Relatives charged for Iraq inquest documents

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Families of servicemen and women who have died during the Iraq war have had to pay for documents used at the inquests into their deaths, the Government revealed yesterday.

One relative paid £600 for access to papers the Army and coroner already had, the Constitutional Affairs minister, Harriet Harman, said. Ms Harman pledged to look into the issue, after a private meeting in London with relatives of 11 service personnel who died in the conflict.

Sixteen family members attended the meeting in Westminster to discuss problems they had faced during the inquest process.

They told Ms Harman it was not fair they should have to pay for documents being used in the coroner's court. Ms Harman said: "If they wanted those pile of documents they had to pay by page. One guy paid £600. He didn't think that was fair.

"Nobody thought it was fair that they have to pay for documents the coroner has got and the army has got."

The minister later added that she was due to meet the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, soon to discuss the issues raised by the families and that they would be "looking into" the question of paying for documents.

The group of relatives also raised the question of regionalising inquests so they would be held nearer to where they live and asked that they happen sooner.

They also felt they didn't know what to expect and wanted more information in advance, as well as more time during the inquest itself to speak and ask questions, Ms Harman said.

She added they had also complained about information being blanked out on documents they were given and that the idea of a victim's advocate to help them through the process was discussed.

She said: "It is all about disclosure, transparency, openness and warning in advance ... They were very concerned that somebody in the future should have a better experience than they did. They were insistent."

The minister said she was sympathetic to regionalising military inquests and indicated the system could be changed before a new law on coroners' courts comes into force.

She said: "We do not want to have to wait for a new law to come into force to do better for families of servicemen and women."