Sorry at last: minister apologises to widow of soldier killed by lack of body armour

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Two British servicemen were killed yesterday. A Marine died during a mission to clear Taliban positions in Kajaki, northern Helmand, Afghanistan. And a soldier was killed while serving in Basra, southern Iraq.

The news made 13 January the bloodiest day for British servicemen overseas for two months. It came as Samantha Roberts, the widow of tank commander Steve Roberts, who died because of a shortage of body armour, finally received an official apology

The inquest last month into the death of Sgt Roberts found he had died because of an "inexcusable and unforgivable ... breach of trust" by the Government. The coroner said the Army had been guilty of " serious failings" in removing his body armour just days before he was shot in March 2003.

The inquest heard that Sgt Roberts had sent home audio tapes from the front complaining of "disgraceful" kit shortages.

Geoff Hoon, then the Defence Secretary, held up the order for more body-armour kits because he did not want to draw attention to military preparations for war. By the time sufficient armour arrived, the invasion had started ­ and Sgt Roberts was dead. He was accidentally shot by a comrade, who was trying to protect him from a rioting mob.

His widow has received a formal apology from Adam Ingram, the Defence minister now responsible for the case.

It is thought that Samantha Roberts, who has told friends she regards the apology as "heartfelt", will meet Mr Ingram this week. They will discuss changes in policy that have already seen all soldiers issued with enhanced body armour.

Mrs Roberts is backing moves to prosecute politicians and senior military officials should similar cases occur. Opposition peers will try tomorrow to amend the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill to remove military immunity in cases of kit shortage or failure.

* Prince Harry begins special training this week before his Blues and Royals regiment goes to Iraq.