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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 February 2007, 15:04 GMT
Army 'covers up' soldier deaths
Soldier killed in Iraq returns to the UK
Families of soldiers who die in Iraq claim the MoD withholds information
As a member of the Territorial Army, Jason Smith was anxious to prove himself alongside the regular soldiers when he was sent to Iraq.

He never got the chance.

With only 10 days acclimatisation in Kuwait he was stationed in a former sports stadium in Al Almarah, southern Iraq in temperatures hitting 60 degrees Celsius.

Colleagues from the King's Own Scottish Borderers say it was a hell hole with no air conditioning and a wind described as being like a hair dryer.

The conditions took a heavy toll on the soldiers with many dropping due to heat stroke.

Pte Smith died in August 2003 of a heart attack brought on by heat stroke.

His mother Catherine was told it was just the heat that killed him but she wanted to know more.

Pte Jason Smith
Pte Smith's family have called for a judicial review

"Nobody could explain, so I eventually asked my GP, who'd lived in South Africa and he said there must have been something else that went wrong to be in that state and it doesn't happen suddenly," she said.

The more she probed, the more the Ministry of Defence stonewalled.

One inquiry into his death was never published and the second report focused on whether TA soldiers were physically fit enough to serve in Iraq.

BBC Radio Four's File on 4 has discovered that Pte Smith should have been referred to hospital with dehydration 13 days before he died.

In a letter home he said he was so dehydrated a medic could not find a vein to put a drip in his arm.

His friend Pte John Horsman said that so many soldiers were collapsing with heat stroke they were told their unit's leave would be cancelled if any more were taken to hospital.

Ambulance driver Jim Black said Pte Smith's tragic death could have been avoided if senior officers had acted swiftly on a request from the company Quartermaster for generators and air conditioning.

Yet three days after Pte Smith died a large generator and air conditioned tent appeared.
Pte Phillip Hewitt
Pte Hewitt's inquest starts this week

"It was there because he died, it should have been there before and Jason would be alive today," Mr Black said.

Ex RAMC Captain Stewart Murray, who was commanding the medical unit which received Pte Smith said the staff at the army hospital were concerned about this treatment prior to arrival especially the lack of oxygen he had received.

Andrew Walker, Assistant Deputy Coroner for Oxfordshire, recorded a narrative verdict saying Pte Smith's death was "caused by a serious failure to recognize and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that he had in adjusting to the climate."

Pte Smith's family, who are also concerned that his army medical records vanished, are seeking a judicial review of the inquest to get to the truth.

Like the relatives of other soldiers who have died in Iraq, they believe vital information is being withheld by the MoD.

And they say any details have to be squeezed out of defence officials.

Sue Smith, another mother, echoed this sentiment.

"Every time I contacted them I was fobbed off," she said.

An inquest on Tuesday ruled that her son Pte Phillip Hewitt, who died 18 months ago in a roadside attack while serving with the first battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment in Iraq, was killed unlawfully.

Concerns have been raised that he was travelling in a lightly protected "snatch" Landrover instead of an armoured vehicle when the Staffs had been warned they were under threat of rocket and mortar attacks.

It's important that the MoD be required to explain what they're up to
Joh MacKenzie, solicitor

Pte Smith and two others were killed when the insurgents, who had been attacking their base with mortars, hit their Landrover.

Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Selena Lynch said she could make no recommendation to the Ministry of Defence about the use of the Land Rovers when patrolling the streets of Southern Iraq as it was beyond the court's competence and jurisdiction to do so.

But Sue Smith's solicitor John MacKenzie told File on 4, "It's important that the MoD be required to explain what they're up to."

"If the Government is going to get involved in adventures of the sort they're involved in in Iraq, then they need to be called to account because the armed forces they've committed are wholly inadequately equipped."

He said an inquest is a family's only way of discovering the truth but even then it depends on the quality of their legal representatives.

"Where a family is represented by reasonably aggressive lawyers, you get the papers.

"It's where families are not represented and they find out nothing at any stage. The inquest lasts half an hour, an hour, and they go away wondering what on earth has happened to their loved one and never find out."

The MoD said a minister would only talk to the BBC on condition the interview was unedited, conditions File on 4 was unable to accept.

Instead it issued a statement saying: "The MoD goes to great lengths to support the families of those who have been killed on operations: this includes the appointment of a dedicated family liaison officer, as well as help with travel and subsistence at inquests.

"As you would expect, while the primary focus is on their immediate and nominated next of kin, every effort is made to ensure that the rest of their family receive support and are kept fully informed of all relevant developments."

Hear the full story on Radio 4: File on 4 Tue 30 Jan 2000 GMT or online at the File on 4 website

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SEE ALSO
Soldiers were unlawfully killed
30 Jan 07 |  Staffordshire
New inquest sought for TA soldier
30 Jan 07 |  File on 4
Sergeant 'furious' over training
08 Jan 07 |  Tayside and Central
Families 'sent soldiers supplies'
09 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
TA soldier found dead in Iraq
14 Aug 03 |  Scotland

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