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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 June 2006, 12:11 GMT 13:11 UK
Pledge over Iraq inquest backlog
British soldiers in Iraq
The bodies of some dead soldiers are sent to RAF Brize Norton
The government says it will act to clear a backlog of more than 50 inquests of UK soldiers killed in Iraq.

Families of the troops have called for the backlog of 56 cases to be cleared, more than half of which relate to deaths three years ago.

All will be heard by the Oxfordshire coroner because their bodies were sent back to RAF Brize Norton, in Carterton.

The government said 80,000 had already been pledged for more staff for coroner Nicholas Gardiner.

Resources call

But the relatives of those killed have called for further resources to speed up the process.

Peter Brierley, whose son L/Cpl Shaun, 28, died after his Land Rover was involved in a road accident in Iraq in 2003, said inquests should be held in the towns where soldiers came from.

"If they had done the inquests locally, we would have had ours a long time ago," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"We would rather it was done quickly so that we can move forward."

Mr Brierley said his son's inquest was now due to take place this month.

'Failing' system

The soldiers' bodies are normally returned to their families at the opening of an inquest shortly after they are flown home but then there has been a delay of up to three years in some cases in reaching a verdict.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) said its officers would investigate the backlog.

"We are aware of the problem," she said.

The ministry takes the welfare and support provided to families at such a difficult time extremely seriously
MoD

"We will be talking with the coroner and Ministry of Defence (MoD) about the backlog to see what is needed."

A MoD spokesman said it too would look into what could be done "to alleviate" the backlog.

"The ministry takes the welfare and support provided to families at such a difficult time extremely seriously and recognises the importance of conducting an inquest at the earliest opportunity," he added.

In February, speaking about proposals to reform the coroners' court system, Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman admitted the current inquests system was failing.

She said: "Families frequently get overlooked during the inquest service, there is nowhere for them to turn when they think something is going wrong, there's no complaints system, the system is fragmented with no national leadership."

In a system Ms Harman branded "downright archaic", many coroners work only part-time, spending much of their time as solicitors in private practice.


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