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Last Updated: Friday, 16 March 2007, 12:49 GMT
Search for truth on 'friendly fire' death
Matty Hull
L/Cpl Matty Hull died four years ago
Now that the coroner at the inquest of British soldier Matty Hull has ruled that his death was unlawful has his widow's four-year quest for truth ended?

Lance Corporal of Horse Matty Hull was one of a group of soldiers in the vanguard of British forces closing in on Basra in southern Iraq in March 2003 when they were spotted by two American A10 planes providing what the military call close air support for the advancing troops.

Although the British scimitar armoured vehicles were draped with sheets of orange fabric meant to mark them out to US and British planes, one of the aircraft twice attacked the column as it advanced through the Iraqi desert.

Radio operators on the ground called the order "abort, abort" warning of "friendlies" in the area. But for L/Cpl Matty Hull and his wounded comrades, it was too late.

Complex inquiry

The official announcement of the 25-year-old's death made clear from the outset senior officers suspected this was a "friendly fire" incident.

A10 Plane
A row erupted over a cockpit video

But the sheer number of British dead in Iraq being investigated by a single coroner's court and a complex inquiry on both sides of the Atlantic meant it was to be another four years before a final verdict was reached in the case.

Even before that process began in earnest, there were signs it could prove a troubled affair.

Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner, Andrew Walker, had clashed before with the US authorities accusing them of being less than forthcoming at inquiries into the deaths of two British airmen shot down by an American missile, and the killing of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd.

Cockpit video

Once again in the case of L/Cpl Matty Hull, the inquest had to take place without American witnesses to crucial events at the heart of the inquiry.

But then came the revelation that evidence of their view of events did exist - in the shape of a cockpit video of the fatal attack - and indeed had been seen by an internal British military investigation.

The scene was set for another battle between the coroner and Washington, though this time Whitehall was dragged into the middle of things, accused of not being open enough about the video's existence and then insisting it could not release it without the Pentagon's say-so.

Susan hull
L/Cpl Hull's widow, Susan, made a direct plea to George W Bush

The leaking of the tape to the Sun newspaper effectively broke the impasse, although America still insisted the video, which it classified as secret, could not be shown in open court.

With the war already dividing political opinion, the case had been thrust into the political spotlight.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said he believed the Ministry of Defence had acted in "good faith" with regards the cockpit video.

He said last month: "I hope I can say this with some confidence - that in similar such circumstances we are able to deal with it in a better way."

In his summing up Mr Walker said he still believed the full facts about the case were not known.

Recording his verdict he said: "The attack on the convoy amounted to an assault.

"It was unlawful because there was no lawful reason for it and in that respect it was criminal."

L/Cpl Hull's widow, Susan Hull had tried to avoid being drawn into controversy.

We need to move on - it's been a long and painful time and we need to move forward
Susan Hull

At times she left the court in frustration with the coroner's struggle to get information from official sources, including details of US rules of engagement and information on the training its pilots had received.

but on the eve of the verdict she made a direct plea to President George W Bush for the US to provide answers for the coroner's remaining questions claiming she "had nothing left to lose".

Speaking at a press conference after the inquest she said she would not be seeking further legal redress.

She said: "I think all of our family feel it was the right verdict, it's what we waited four years to hear.

"There's a great sense of relief it's over."

'He was amazing'

She said the lack of help from the US authorities had been "disappointing.

As for the US pilots involved, she said: "I hope that they are at peace in themselves and that they can move on with their lives.

"I'm sure they are full of remorse for what they did, I hope so, anyway."

Mrs Hull, 30, paid tribute to her husband, who she had met while at school in Gillingham, Dorset.

"He was amazing," she said. "I could go on forever about his personal strengths and I know all of us could.

"He was full of fun, just smiled all the time, always happy even in the face of things that were difficult and trying."

She said he had loved his job, adding: "I would like to think he was proud of us. I would like to think that he feels that we were dignified."


SEE ALSO
'Friendly fire' footage revealed
06 Feb 07 |  England
UK pressures US on Iraq inquests
20 Nov 06 |  UK Politics
Extradite US soldiers - Campbell
25 Oct 06 |  UK Politics

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