Blunders blamed for mob killing of Red Caps in Iraq

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The Ministry of Defence has admitted that "systemic weaknesses" in Army procedures and mistakes by "individuals on the ground" contributed to the deaths of six Red Caps who were killed by a mob in Iraq.

The Ministry of Defence has admitted that "systemic weaknesses" in Army procedures and mistakes by "individuals on the ground" contributed to the deaths of six Red Caps who were killed by a mob in Iraq.

Yesterday, families of the soldiers accused the MoD of a cover-up, and threatened to "name and shame" officers they believe were responsible for errors that led to the deaths of the Royal Military Police (RMP) officers in Majar al-Kabir in 2003. None of the officers is to be court-martialled. The board of inquiry, under Col Mike Hickson, heard a catalogue of blunders: the Parachute Regiment was warned there could be violence when it went into Majar al-Kabir in southern Iraq but the Red Caps were not alerted; the Paras were not aware that the RMPs were in the town; the RMPs could not radio for help because their telephones did not work in the area; and a helicopter sent to look for them went to the wrong place.

The families were told in a letter by the director of Army personnel services, Brigadier Stephen Andrews, that the investigation looked seriously at the role of four officers, including two who were recommended for further investigation, but decided not to bring any action against them.

Brigadier Andrews said the MoD decided that "singling out individuals would be perceived as apportioning blame".

He said Col Hickson felt that "administrative sanction" was not thought appropriate "in relation to two of the individuals concerned".

The letter went on: "He did, however, conclude that the chain of command should give further consideration to the possibility that another two individuals should face some form of administrative sanction. These opinions were reviewed with great care by the chain of command, who decided not to accept the recommendation that these two individuals should be investigated further. All the individuals concerned have been informed."

Reg Keys, father of L/Cpl Tom Keys, 20, who died, said: "It says they will protect the identities of these men, but I know who they are. I am not going to stand by. I am going to name and shame them. This is a cover-up and a whitewash."

The letter said that the MoD had accepted the findings of the board of inquiry president. It said that there "are a number of factors that contributed accumulatively to the creation of circumstances in which the deaths occurred".

The letter went on: "Some of these factors were associated with systemic weaknesses in Army procedures as applied by individuals on the ground. We have acknowledged these failings and are taking positive action to rectify them."

L/Cpl Keys' mother, Sally, said the deaths, which were the subject of a television documentary on Thursday, could have been prevented if the men had had a flare, worth £1.50. It could have alerted members of the Parachute Regiment, who were in the vicinity, that the Red Caps were holed up in the village police station and under attack.

The families believe the Parachute Regiment provoked the uprising by militants when the latter were fired on by Cpl John Dolman, who left the Army but was killed by a suicide bomb in Iraq last year when working for a private security firm. The programme said Cpl Dolman had been investigated for the killing of two civilians in Kosovo.

The Parachute Regiment men were extracted from the hostile crowd, but were not aware that the Red Caps were in the police station.

"The documentary pointed out what we thought all along, that the Paras came in and caused a fracas and the RMPs were caught up in the middle," said Mrs Keys. "The townspeople were friendly towards the RMPs, calling them by the first names. But they didn't like the Paras. They are very rough and brutish."

The families have been invited to a further meeting with the board of tribunal at the MoD on Thursday.