Page last updated at 18:30 GMT, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Better UK troop protection urged

(Clockwise from top left) 2nd Lt Yorke Dyer, Pte Eleanor Dlugosz, Cpl Kris O'Neill, Kingsman Adam James Smith
The four died when a patrol near Basra was attacked

The coroner investigating the deaths of four British soldiers in a roadside bomb blast in Iraq has called for better protection for troops.

The soldiers died when their Warrior vehicle drove over a device near Basra on 5 April last year.

Killed were 2nd Lt Joanna Yorke Dyer, 24, a friend of Prince William, Cpl Kris O'Neill, 27, Pte Eleanor Dlugosz, 19, and Kingsman Adam James Smith, 19.

The Ministry of Defence said there was "no such thing" as perfect protection.

Coroner David Masters said he would raise the issue when he meets the armed forces minister later this week.

A Warrior vehicle's armour is predominantly on the sides and top but not on the underside, which is where the blast hit, Major David Austin from the Royal Military Police told the inquest.

'Great pressure'

The device was buried in a road and was detonated as the Warrior passed over it, leaving a 3ft deep crater in the ground.

Mr Masters told the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, that he would meet Armed Forces Minster Bob Ainsworth later this week to recommend the armour issue was dealt with speedily.

He said measures had been put in place to protect the vehicles in the short term, but work was needed to enhance protection in the long term.

Regarding the armour issue, Alan Hepper, an armour expert said: "It's a big issue. We have been told to treat it as an urgent operational requirement. It is being pushed through with great pressure from the Ministry of Defence."

Mr Masters said he would "seek confirmation from the top that something was being done".

He added: "It is encouraging - if any encouragement can be gained from something like this - that there is a very high-profile programme in place to research and develop new armour for the undersides of vehicles like this operating in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The mother of Cpl O'Neill called for the government to invest more money in protecting troops.

I remember hearing a bang and that was it. Next thing I remember I was looking up at the moon
Cpl Michael Carr

Valerie O'Neill said: "I raised the question of armour defence so no family has to go through what we've gone through.

"This can't happen again. The bombs are getting more sophisticated and better equipment has to be found."

The inquest heard the Warrior was fitted with a working ECM (electronic counter-measures) device, designed to jam remote-controlled detonations.

But the bomb which blew up the vehicle was triggered with a command wire, found afterwards buried in the ground, which it could not have prevented.

The coroner said it was likely that the four died instantly from blast wounds.

Hidden hazard

Cpl Michael Carr, of the Royal Military Police, who survived the explosion, was riding in the rear of the Warrior next to 2nd Lt Dyer, the inquest heard.

"I remember hearing a bang and that was it. Next thing I remember I was looking up at the moon," he said.

"I looked around and I could no longer see the female officer."

He knew at the time that it was probable no-one else in the rear of the vehicle had survived.

The explosion happened in a known hot-spot for insurgents as a convoy made its way back to base following an unsuccessful operation to find a suspected arms cache.

Soldiers dismounted at regular intervals to check the road ahead for hazards, but the bomb was not spotted beneath the road.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence said: "There is an ongoing programme of work to increase the protection of our vehicles and soldiers and stay ahead of the ever-evolving threat on operations.

"No armour or electronic counter-measures solution can guarantee complete protection.

"Warrior is one of the most highly protected armoured fighting vehicles in the UK inventory and is highly regarded by troops in both theatres."

Second Lt Dyer, who was at Sandhurst military academy with Prince William, was from Yeovil in Somerset. Cpl O'Neill from Catterick, Yorkshire, and Pte Eleanor Dlugosz, from Southampton, were both in the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Kingsman Adam James Smith, from Liverpool, served in 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment, alongside 2nd Lt Dyer.

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