Poor planning in Iraq to blame for soldiers' deaths, says coroner

A coroner has severely criticised British army officers, saying their failure to plan was partly to blame for the capture and execution of two of their men in the early days of the Iraq war.

Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36 and a father of two, and Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, were murdered by Iraqi intelligence after being captured in an ambush when they strayed into dangerous territory.

The inquest into their deaths came as it emerged that another soldier had been killed in Iraq, bringing the toll to 119. A Royal Army Medical Corps soldier was killed on Sunday when 15 mortars were fired at a British base, with three hitting the compound. Within hours the base came under attack again. This time the rockets fell short, killing two small children, aged seven and three, and wounding another.

"This was a very serious indirect fire attack, and we have in recent weeks increased our security measures there, and were it not for these security measures we could have had more casualties", said Major Charlie Burbridge, the British forces spokesman in Basra.

The two-day inquest into the deaths of Staff Sgt Cullingworth and Spr Allsopp revealed the details of their last few hours alive as well as a catalogue of errors. The bomb disposal experts from 33 Engineer Regiment, on their way to clear a radio station, had taken a route on which the ITN journalist Terry Lloyd, 51, had been killed a day earlier - caught in the crossfire between US and Iraqi forces.

Instead of being told to skirt around the town of Az-Zubayr, in southern Iraq, they were ordered to go through the outskirts. When they took a wrong turn, it led them straight through the town where they were hit by a hail of bullets and a rocket-propelled grenade before being dragged from their vehicle.

The assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, Andrew Walker, described the route the men took as "extremely dangerous" and added: "If the proper procedures had been followed then no one should have been allowed to use that route. Headquarters knew that it was a dangerous area and they were advising people not to go near that area on the 23rd."

As it emerged that two Iraqis had been arrested and were awaiting trial, the coroner returned a verdict that the soldiers had been unlawfully killed, "murdered by Iraqi intelligence personnel".

He added: "It was, in my opinion, inexcusable that the road they were supposed to be taking took them through the outskirts and exposed them to danger. The failure to adequately plan for and warn of the dangers in Az-Zubayr is, in my view, a contributory factor in their deaths."

The soldiers were in a two-vehicle patrol on 23 March 2003 when they were ambushed. They were still alive when they were taken to Ba'ath party headquarters. But, instead of receiving medical treatment as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions, they were filmed as they lay dying, surrounded by a mob.

The film was shown on al-Jazeera television, prompting a row when the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said they had been executed after the men's families were told that they had died in combat.

The coroner said: "Staff Sgt Cullingworth administered morphine to Spr Allsopp at some point. From there they were taken ostensibly to a hospital but, in fact, to an Iraqi military intelligence compound. They were shot and killed in that compound." The bodies were found three weeks later in shallow graves.

The court heard previously from Lance Corporal Marcus Clarke and L/Cpl Philip John Law, who had been in the vehicle behind but were unable to save their colleagues because of the ferocity of the attack. Despite the fact that each vehicle should have had a map, L/Cpl Law said Staff Sgt Cullingworth had the only one issued to them. After their capture, soldiers from the Black Watch fought into town to rescue them but found only the burnt-out Land Rover.

The inquest into Mr Lloyd's death begins today.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing