Troop carrier blamed for deaths of troops

The families of four British soldiers killed when their armoured troop carriers crashed off mountain roads in Bosnia have launched their own investigation after the Ministry of Defence's board of inquiry blamed the drivers for the two accidents.

The inquiry, which took 11 months to report, contradicted a United Nations police report which absolved the driver of the first vehicle from any blame.

The parents of the dead soldiers are convinced that the Saxon armoured vehicles were unsuitable for the rough mountain tracks around the Muslim enclave of Gorazde. The 11-ton four-wheeled Saxons were used in Gorazde because the Serbs considered the tracked Warrior fighting vehicles too intimidating, and the British Army had no more suitable vehicle immediately available. Questions about their use in Bosnia have been raised in Parliament this week.

A BBC South documentary to be screened for the first time tonight follows Geoff Armstrong, the father of Phillip, who died in the second of two accidents, aged 21. Christopher Turner, 18, and Martin Dowdell, 19, the driver, also died when their vehicle rolled down a mountainside on 12 September 1994. In A Foreign Field, the BBC team interviewed a Bosnian army soldier who described hearing the screams of the soldiers inside the vehicle as it tumbled 500m to destruction.

In the first accident, three days earlier, Ben Hinton, 22, was killed and three comrades seriously injured. The UN military police concluded that the edge of the road, which was only 2cm wider than the vehicle, had given way.

Ben's father, Mike Hinton, said: "You can't help feeling that two very similar accidents within three kilometres of each other and three days of each other points to some fundamental flaw in the operating procedure, and to us that means matching the vehicle to the track".

All the soldiers were from the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment. Mark Jones, a soldier in the regiment, said: "Saxon was just basic. They were horrible. It was OK when we had Saxon in Ireland and they were on a road, but they just didn't seem the right sort of vehicle to be taking up mountains."

Major-General Jonathan Dent, a former head of armoured-vehicle procurement in the Army, said: "We wanted a basic armoured bus which would transport men around the battlefield, bearing in mind the battlefield was expected to be the north German plain. This vehicle was deemed eminently suitable. It has reasonable cross-country mobility, is reasonably reliable and it was certainly cheap."

The best vehicles for the terrain around Gorazde were light-tracked armoured vehicles such as the Scimitar or Spartan, or unarmoured Land Rovers. The heavy Warrior fighting vehicles would not have been able to get up the tracks, but a former commanding officer of the Royal Hampshire Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Reeve-Tucker, described the use of Saxons on "very steep and rather dodgy tracks" as "debatable".

Mr Armstrong was more critical. "It was possibly the worst place to be stationed in Bosnia and to get these vehicles up these tracks - virtually on top of a mountain - I think somebody in the regiment, some senior officers, and the MoD should have had the guts to admit to themselves that these Saxons were never meant to do this."

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