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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 December, 2004, 18:01 GMT
Soldiers' families 'losing faith' in MoD
Lance Corporal Andrew Craw
Lance Corporal Andrew Craw died in an accident on a firing range
Families of some of the soldiers killed or injured in Iraq have lost confidence in the Ministry of Defence over its handling of their cases.

More deaths of British troops in Iraq have been caused by accidents than by Iraqi fighters.

But the MoD's investigations into the accidents have provoked concerns that it is covering up mistakes and blaming junior ranks rather than addressing deep-seated problems.

Faulty equipment, lack of training, poor organisation and a last minute rush to order supplies have all been contributory factors in some of the deaths or injuries.

I don't think my son got a chance to live
James Craw
The parents of a 21-year-old Lance Corporal shot in the head within hours of reaching Iraq believe the Army did not take into account all the details of their son's death.

Andrew Craw, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed trying to unjam a machine gun of a type which he had been given to use for the first time.

His father, James Craw, told File On 4 that other men in Andrew's unit had to drive for an hour and 20 minutes before they could summon a helicopter to airlift his son to hospital.

"The medical equipment was not on the range that day and I don't think my son got a chance to live.

"And I've been told that the soldier who was working on Andrew couldn't get an evacuation going because there were no communications."

'Unthinking moment'

File On 4 saw a report of an internal board of inquiry which took evidence from witnesses to establish the facts and to make recommendations to prevent future accidents.

It concluded that a safety plan had failed in a number of areas, that the organisation of the day's events lacked forethought and that the men had gone two nights without proper sleep before being taken to the range.

It also revealed that firing exercises had to be aborted because so many of the guns were jamming, and that there was a shortage of oil to clean and maintain the weapons.

Just how many of the Army regulations are being flouted on a day-to-day basis?
Solicitor Jocelyn Cockburn
The men's struggle to acquaint themselves with the Minimi machine gun seems due to the fact that they had been sent to Iraq two months earlier than they expected, with equipment bought at the eleventh hour.

However, one sentence seems to throw responsibility back to Andrew Craw.

"It is difficult to understand what caused Lance Corporal Craw's 'unthinking moment', other than a lapse in concentration which led to him carrying out such a bizarre and unauthorised weapons clearance drill."

But the Craw family's solicitor, Jocelyn Cockburn, says the young NCO may well have been copying methods he saw used by a more senior severiceman.

Information, she says, which came from one of the Army's own health and safety units.

"The family met with an investigator from the land investigation team, which is another Army investigation, and he raised an incident where a Sergeant on the range attempted to clear a gun by hitting it with a brick.

"It is possible this had an impact in causing Lance Corporal Craw to do what he did.

"What is horrifying is that there were so many mistakes made on this occasion, so just how many of the Army regulations are being flouted on a day-to-day basis?"

'Surprise attack'

The MoD said the deficiencies uncovered by the Board of Inquiry were being rectified but that there was no evidence they had caused the soldier Craw's death.

File On 4 also spoke to some of the relatives of the six military policemen killed by a angry mob of local people at a police station Al Majarr Al Kabir last June.

Three weeks ago, an Army board of inquiry into the incident pinpointed poor communications, a failure to pass down orders allowing the men more ammunition and confusion over command relationships.

The board also found that "the incident at Al Majaar Al Kabir was a surprise attack which could not reasonably have been predicted."

Tom Keys
Tom Keys, a former paratrooper, died just before his 21st birthday
But a few days later the policemen's relatives were sent files of witness statements which contained testimony from a soldier in the Paras who said he had been briefed about a possible attack on a patrol early on 24 June, the morning of the Red Caps' fatal journey.

Reg Keys, father of Red Cap Lance Corporal Tom Keys, told File on 4: "My personal feelings are that something has happened that they want to cover up and that they have not been honest with us."

Support for bereaved

The MoD said the board of inquiry was an ongoing, exhaustive process to carefully establish all the facts, and that the families will be informed fully once it has concluded.

In a statement it said: "We strive hard to provide support for all our bereaved families."

However, senior defence analyst Paul Beaver said many of the deaths showed signs of a worrying trend.

"There is a fundamental breakdown of trust between the families and the MoD, and almost between regiments and the MoD.

"And on the MoD's side there seems to be an eagerness to grab at anything which enables them to say: 'It wasn't our fault.'

"This can't be good for the future morale of the Army, for retention and recruiting. It's not good for defence and at the end of the day it's not good for the country."

No minister would be interviewed for this File On 4 investigation and the MoD said no senior army officer was willing to come forward.

File on 4: BBC Radio 4, Tuesday 7 December at 2000 GMT and repeated at 1700 GMT on Sunday 12 December.



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SEE ALSO:
Hoon rejects Iraq death 'anger'
21 Feb 05 |  Politics
Tributes to Iraq death soldier
08 Jan 04 |  Scotland
Profile: Black Watch
21 Oct 04 |  Scotland


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