Widow asks Hoon for personal apology

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Geoff Hoon yesterday publicly apologised to the widow of a soldier who was killed in Iraq after being ordered to hand over his body armour.

But Samantha Roberts insisted that his comments on BBC Radio 4's Today programme did not go far enough. She said that she would only withdraw her demand for him to quit in return for a personal apology.

"I just want to hear him say sorry to me - not just for Steve but for all the troops. I would sooner that than his resignation now," she said.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Defence said: "I am extremely sorry that Sergeant Roberts died, and I am extremely sorry that the families of another 55 men are mourning their losses as a result of operations in Iraq. I am also extremely sorry that Sgt Roberts did not have the enhanced body armour. We wanted him to have that equipment."

Asked about calls for his resignation, Mr Hoon said: "Let us separate out the two elements. Firstly the personal tragedy as far as Sgt Roberts is concerned. There is a thorough and, I expect, detailed investigation under way as to all the circumstances that led to this tragic death.

"I will look at that investigation when it concludes, and I have indicated to Mrs Roberts, as we have already been doing, that we will provide her with all of the relevant information that that investigation provides.

"Separately from that there is obviously and rightly a question of the overall effectiveness of both the military operation and indeed the logistics supply to that operation."

Sgt Roberts, 33, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, was killed near Zubayr, south-west of Basra. A pathologist's report found that the bullet would have been stopped by specialist body armour, with ceramic plates, of the type that Sgt Roberts had been asked to hand back.

Mrs Roberts had been sent an audio diary by her husband in which he described the level of protection he and his comrades had been offered as a "joke", and said: "It is disgraceful what we have got."

In an interview, Mrs Roberts, 32, said: "It's the Government's fault Steve is not here today. Mr Hoon is ultimately responsible - he is where the buck stops.

"Steve died because he did not have a flak jacket. If that's not a major issue, I'd like to ask Mr Hoon how many men have to die before it becomes one."