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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 January, 2004, 16:55 GMT
Hoon must quit, says Iraq widow
Sgt Steve Roberts
Sgt Steve Roberts said the lack of equipment for troops was "a joke"
The widow of a British soldier killed in Iraq after having to give his body armour to other soldiers has called on Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to resign.

Sgt Steve Roberts, shot dead in March during an attack by Iraqi dissidents, recorded an audio diary in which he called supplies to soldiers "a joke."

His widow Samantha told BBC Radio Five Live her husband and other soldiers were "deeply shocked" at the lack of equipment.

But Defence Minister Ivor Caplin dismissed calls for Mr Hoon's resignation over what he called the "odd glitch or shortcoming" in the provision of protective equipment to British troops in Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed his sympathy and condolences for Mrs Roberts and said he "totally" understood her concerns.

MoD contact

He was sure the Ministry of Defence was conducting a "thorough" inquiry into the circumstances surrounding Sgt Roberts' death and would be staying in touch with his widow.

But he said he would prefer to wait for the outcome of the probe before making any comment.

Just to hear his voice is a little hard to take still
Sgt Robert's mother Marian

In the tapes given to Mrs Roberts by her father-in-law on the day of her husband's funeral, Sgt Roberts told how equipment promised to troops had not arrived.

The 33-year-old soldier, from Bradford and with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, said it was a joke he did not have body armour to protect him.

He had been ordered to hand his own armour back so it could be given to British infantrymen in Iraq judged to be more at risk.

Mrs Roberts told the BBC: "They thought 'we're in a war situation surely they're going to give us everything'.

"They were deeply shocked when they got there and realised they weren't."

Mrs Roberts, 32, said it had been emotional to listen to the tapes, in which her husband's final words to her were: "I love you lots. Sleep tight, babe. Bye."

'Disgust'

On Tuesday she heard Mr Hoon tell MPs that enhanced body armour had been issued for as many troops as possible but some of the 38,000 sets sent had not reached units before the war began.

Geoff Hoon
It's for the benefit of the country for him (Hoon) to go
Samantha Roberts
Commanders had given priority to infantry units. A recent report from the National Audit Office (NAO) concluded there had been problems with the supply of vital equipment but also praised the scale and speed of the military operation in Iraq.

Mrs Roberts accused Mr Hoon of being "very complacent", despite his offers to meet her again, and said it would be for the benefit of the country if he resigned.

She told Five Live: "Steve died because he did not have a flak jacket. If that is not a major issue, I have to ask Mr Hoon how many men have to die before he sees it as a major issue?"

Conservative defence spokesman Nicholas Soames said Sgt Roberts's "could have been avoided", adding: "Geoff Hoon should resign."

Sgt Roberts, originally from Wadebridge, Cornwall, was one of the first British casualties in the war when he was shot during a riot in Basra.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Bilton
"A Ministry of Defence report into his death said that armour would probably have saved his life"


Samantha Roberts, Sgt Steve Roberts' widow
"I would like to ask Mr Hoon how many men have to die before this [lack of equipment] becomes a major issue?"



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