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Last Updated: Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK
US ambassador invited to inquest
Sergeant Les Hehir and sons
Sgt Hehir's family are disappointed with America's response
The coroner at the inquest into the deaths of the first British servicemen killed in the Iraq war has invited the US ambassador to attend the hearing.

On Monday, Andrew Walker called it "inexcusable" that US authorities had failed to release evidence about the fatal helicopter crash in March 2003.

Now he wants the ambassador to explain the apparent lack of co-operation - denied by the US Defense Department.

The eight British commandos died along with four US marines in Kuwait.

Poor weather

On the second day of the hearing, it emerged that the younger brother of one of the eight killed had been swapped off the US Marine Corps helicopter just moments before it took off.

Lee Evans' brother, Llywelyn, 24, died when the Sea Knight went down south of the Kuwaiti border.

The young soldier listened as his team commander, Warrant Officer 2 Thomas Roberts, gave evidence.

He contradicted earlier reports of poor weather, saying it was so clear he could see cars and fuel fires on the road 300ft below.

The US inquiry said the crash happened because the pilots were "spatially disorientated".

'Incompetent'

Earlier, Paul Spencer, lawyer for the family of victim Sergeant Les Hehir, from Poole in Dorset, said his clients had been dismayed by comments made by the US deputy chief of mission David Johnson on Channel 4 News.

Mr Spencer told the hearing: "Sgt Hehir and the seven other service personnel did as the prime minister asked them to do, and that was to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Americans in March 2003.

"Against that background, you will readily understand the dismay of Mrs Hehir and the families of other personnel who tragically died in this incident when she learned from David Johnson...that he didn't think this inquest process was, as he described it, 'appropriate'," he added.

The court also heard Mr Johnson told the programme the coroner was not "competent" to examine the issue surrounding the crash.

We just want to know what happened - we want the truth
Sharon Hehir

Oxfordshire assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker replied that he saw "no harm" in inviting the US ambassador or his deputy to the hearing in Oxford.

Mr Spencer also said Mr Johnson made it clear that his answers were given on senior instruction from the American government and while the US was prepared to be fully open with the MoD, they would not co-operate with the coroner.

Outside court during an adjournment, widow Sharon Hehir appealed directly to the US authorities.

"This is our only opportunity - we just want some answers," she said.

"I'm sure I speak for all the families when I say that we just want to know what happened, we want the truth. If they've got nothing to hide then why won't they help us?"

The US Defense Department told BBC News the coroner was provided with a "redacted report" of the US investigation - the same report provided to the US next of kin - and permission was given for witness statements to be used in court.

The spokesman said: "We continue to co-ordinate with the MoD on requests from the coroner to release information that is not classified or otherwise properly protected"

Previously, Mr Walker has criticised US authorities for failing to provide "vital" information during last month's controversial inquest into the death of Matty Hull.




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