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Last Updated: Monday, 31 July 2006, 17:32 GMT 18:32 UK
Iraq death due to kit shortage
Sgt Steve Roberts
Sgt Roberts was the first British soldier killed in action in Iraq
A British soldier died in Iraq because he was not wearing the enhanced body armour he had had to give up because of shortages, an Army report has found.

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

The board of inquiry said bullet-proof plates on his Enhanced Combat Body Armour (ECBA) would have saved him.

The MoD says ECBA is now issued to all personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An MoD spokeswoman said that from early 2004 it had 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".

He (Sgt Roberts) was an all-round professional soldier and a first-class tank commander
Col Peter Davies

The Army Board of Inquiry gave five factors which had contributed to the death of Cornwall-born Sgt Roberts, 33, who was the first soldier to die in action in Iraq.

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.

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

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He was issued ECBA but it was withdrawn on 20 March 2003 - four days before his death - due to shortages.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 is criticised in the report for failing to give "timely attention" to shortages in kit.

Soldier's widow

In the aftermath of his death, the soldier's widow Samantha Roberts released an audio diary in which her husband had called supplies to soldiers "a joke."

And she called on the then defence secretary Geoff Hoon to resign over the issue.

Samantha Roberts speaking at a press conference last year
Samantha Roberts spoke at a press conference last year

The report also found that generals had identified a need for more body armour in September 2001, but ordering was held up for 15 months by "political constraints" because the government did not want to be seen to be arming for an invasion at a time when diplomatic efforts to prevent a war in Iraq were continuing at the United Nations.

The report noted the government had since imposed a policy making sure all soldiers on the battlefield had appropriate body armour.

The report also found some equipment had gone missing because of logistical problems.

The MoD said there had been much improvement in the "supply chain" and tracking of military equipment.

The Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said in April there was insufficient evidence for charges to be brought against the UK soldiers over deaths of Sgt Roberts and Iraqi Zaher Zaher at a roadblock at Az Zubayr near Basra on 24 March 2003.

The Army's Director of Personal Services Col Peter Davies, said the loss of Sgt Roberts was still mourned.

"He was an all-round professional soldier and a first-class tank commander. I know the entire Army would want his family to know he is greatly missed and our thoughts and condolences remain with them," he said.

"We do our utmost to protect our people but the unfortunate reality is that military operations are dangerous, uncertain and complex. Regrettably, soldiering is far from risk-free."

'Better armour'

The MoD spokeswoman also said of the board's findings: "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.

The MoD added: "Our thoughts are with Sergeant Roberts's family on this difficult day, especially his widow Samantha."




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Hear a clip from Sgt Steven Roberts' audio diary



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