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Last Updated: Sunday, 21 December, 2003, 14:56 GMT
Hoon declines to make public apology
Sergeant Steven Roberts
Sgt Steven Roberts was from the Cornish town of Wadebridge
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon has declined to issue a public apology over the death of a soldier who was shot in Iraq.

Sergeant Steve Roberts, originally from Wadebridge, Cornwall, had been ordered to give up some of his body armour because it was in short supply.

Mr Hoon said he was "sorry" about the death of Sgt Roberts but insisted that British troops had been exposed to a lower level of risk in Iraq than in any similar conflict previously.

Sgt Roberts' widow Samantha, from Shipley, West Yorkshire, had demanded a public apology after a Ministry of Defence report revealed her husband had been issued with ceramic plates for his flak jacket but was told to hand them back because another regiment did not have enough to go round.

Experts said the plates would have saved his life when he was shot while trying to control a riot in Basra on 24 March.

I feel the same about Mrs Roberts as I feel about the other 52 families who are grieving the loss of someone very close and dear to them
Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
The findings came days after a National Audit Office report which was critical of the MoD's failure to ensure that all equipment sent to Iraq actually reached the troops for whom it was intended.

Mrs Roberts has questioned Mr Hoon's earlier claim that 98% of equipment got through to British troops.

Mr Hoon acknowledged on Sunday there were shortcomings in the tracking of equipment and promised they would be tackled by a new computerised distribution system.

When asked if he would apologise to Mrs Roberts, Mr Hoon told Sky News' Sunday with Adam Boulton: "I have spent a good deal of time talking to her and made it clear I would be willing to see her again."

Ongoing investigation

He added: "I feel the same about Mrs Roberts as I feel about the other 52 families who, particularly coming up to Christmas, are grieving the loss of someone very close and dear to them.

"I am certainly sorry about his death. What is important is that we learn lessons.

"I know that Mrs Roberts, when she came to see me, was concerned obviously about her personal situation, but more than anything was concerned about other soldiers potentially in a similar situation.

"I share that concern and we have to get to the bottom of it."

An investigation into Sgt Roberts' death, the first British casualty of the war, is being undertaken by the Royal Military Police, and Mr Hoon said he was not willing to prejudge its findings.

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