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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 22:28 GMT 23:28 UK
Iraq widow welcomes policy change
Samantha Roberts
Mrs Roberts has campaigned to find out how her husband died
The widow of a soldier who died in Iraq after giving up enhanced body armour because of shortages has welcomed a policy change by defence officials.

Samantha Roberts said now that Enhanced Combat Body Armour (ECBA) was issued to all personnel in battle "this should not happen to any soldier again".

An inquiry confirmed ECBA would have saved Sergeant Steven Roberts, who died in a 'friendly fire" shooting in 2003.

The 33-year-old was the first British soldier killed in action in Iraq.

Sgt Roberts, of Shipley, West Yorks, was accidentally shot dead when UK troops opened fire during a disturbance near Basra in March 2003.

The events are not just technical - they involve the loss of my husband, the loss of a son, a beloved family member
Samantha Roberts

Mrs Roberts said she and other members of his family had been looking at the board of inquiry's findings, which were published on Monday.

"I was told that the fact that Steve would be alive today if he had had the body armour was beyond reasonable doubt," she said in a statement.

The board of inquiry found that bullet-proof plates on the ECBA would have saved Sgt Roberts. It also named five key factors which had contributed to his death.

'Emotional day'

Mrs Roberts, who has campaigned to seek information following her husband's death, said it had been "a strenuous and emotional day".

"The events are not just technical - they involve the loss of my husband, the loss of a son, a beloved family member," she said.

The Army Board of Inquiry said several key factors had contributed to the death of Cornwall-born Sgt Roberts.

One of these was that the L94 machine gun which fired the shot which killed Sgt Roberts was known to be inaccurate at short range. The gunner who fired it had not been taught about problems with it during his training.

Iraqi civilian Zaher Zaher was shot and killed in the same incident.

READ THE REPORT

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The inquiry criticised "inadequate" procedures and recommended all gunners should in future be trained on the gun's shortcomings.

The report also cited the apparent jamming of Sgt Roberts' pistol and the absence of a second soldier protecting him.

The inquiry board also said the lack of operating procedures for Challenger tank units manning vehicle checkpoints contributed to the soldier's death.

Sgt Roberts was wearing Combat Body Armour (CBA) when he was shot on duty in Iraq. He was issued ECBA but it was withdrawn on 20 March 2003 - four days before his death - due to shortages.

The report said: "Had Sgt Roberts been wearing correctly fitting and fitted ECBA when this incident unfolded, he would not have been fatally injured by the rounds that struck him."

The Ministry of Defence was also criticised in the report for failing to give "timely attention" to kit shortages.

The MoD said that from early 2004 it has been its policy that all personnel were issued with "their own personal set of Enhanced Combat Body Armour before their deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan".

An MoD spokeswoman said of the report: "All six recommendations have been accepted and most have already been implemented."

This was part of an ongoing reviews aimed at making improvements, she added.

It had also put 500,000 into additional force protection and developed "new and improved" body armour to improve safety for troops in the two countries.




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