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Last Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
MoD 'hid soldier deaths details'
Trooper David Clarke and Corporal Stephen Allbutt
The pair were killed in so-called "friendly fire" near Basra
Details of the deaths of two soldiers killed in "friendly fire" in Iraq were hidden by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), an inquest has heard.

Barrister Richard Hermer was speaking at an inquest into death of Cpl Stephen Allbutt, 35, in March 2003.

Cpl Allbutt and trooper David Clarke, 19, both of Staffs, died in the same incident but remains of Mr Clarke were not found so no inquest can be held.

An Army inquiry blamed a communications breakdown for their deaths.

Mr Hermer told the inquest in Oxford documents about the deaths were not given to the men's families when they should have been.

All this has done is cause hurt and upset
Richard Herman, barrister

He also said their copies had been edited to the point of being "almost unintelligible".

"All this has done is cause hurt and upset to [Debi] Allbutt, (Cpl Allbutt's widow)" he said.

Andrew Walker, Oxfordshire's assistant deputy coroner, said it was a matter of deep concern disclosure by the MoD was not complied with.

"It seems there is no reason why the documents we have today could not have been given to the families three years ago," he said.

Deep concern

Cpl Allbutt, a father-of-two from Stoke-on-Trent, served with the Queens Royal Lancers as did Mr Clarke, from Littleworth.

Colonel William Bowles, a retired Army officer now working for the Land Accident Prevention Team, said confusion over radio communications may have been a factor in the two men's deaths.

They died when a Queen's Royal Lancers (QRL) tank was fired upon by a 2 Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), which may not have been in communication with the other vehicle because its crew were using a different frequency.

At the time, the groups were trying to capture a bridge south of Basra, each operating on opposite sides of the canal, he said.

'Beggars belief'

He added the commander of the RTR tank may have become disorientated, believing he was firing northeast when he was in fact firing northwest.

"Certainly, there was a very serious failure to acquire the appropriate information," said Col Bowles.

"It beggars belief. If he (the RTR's tank troop commander) had known they were there then I'm sure he would not have fired - ergo, he did not know they were there.

"It's a very serious failure and why it occurred I do not know."

He continued: "Everywhere east of the river (or canal) was in effect enemy territory. He fired west of the river."

Asked by the coroner if he believed these men were adequately trained, he said: "Apparently not because otherwise this would not have happened."

The inquest has been adjourned until Monday.




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The inquest heard the failure "beggared belief"



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