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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 18:37 GMT
Hoon 'sorry' over soldier's death
Geoff Hoon, Defence Secretary
Hoon says ministers should not interfere in commanders' decisions
The defence secretary says he is "extremely sorry" a soldier killed in Iraq lacked the proper body armour - but has resisted calls to resign.

Sgt Steve Roberts, 33, was told to hand back his flak jacket while serving with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, because there were not enough to go round.

Days later, on 24 March last year, he was shot dead trying to quell a riot.

His widow Samantha has called for Mr Hoon to quit saying he has "blood on his hands".

Pressure has been mounting on the defence secretary since Mrs Roberts released an audio diary made by her husband in which he described his worries about being sent into battle without proper equipment.

Widow Samantha Roberts
It's for the benefit of the country for him (Geoff Hoon) to go
Sgt Robert's widow Samantha

Mr Hoon told Sky he hoped to hold a further meeting with Mrs Roberts on Monday afternoon.

He told BBC Radio Five Live: "As I have said to Mrs Roberts before, I am extremely sorry that Sgt Roberts died...

"I am also extremely sorry that Sgt Roberts did not have the enhanced body armour.

"It is something ministers wanted to happen and indeed ministers ensured that 36,000 sets of body armour were sent to theatre for that purpose."


Asked about the calls for his resignation, Mr Hoon told BBC News 24: "I am content to await the outcome of the various investigations, not least the Hutton report, and obviously to make decisions in the light of whatever is said."

In the audio diary to his wife, Sgt Roberts, from Shipley, West Yorkshire, called supplies to soldiers "a joke" and the shortages "disgraceful".

Sgt Steve Roberts
We know we're going to have to go to war without the correct equipment

Mrs Roberts claimed he had been ordered to hand his armour back so it could be given to infantrymen judged to be more at risk.

A preliminary MoD report into the death of her husband indicated armour could have saved his life.

Mrs Roberts also claims the MoD has said her husband was killed by so-called "friendly fire".

On Friday, she said Mr Hoon had not given her the apology she wanted, although she was grateful that he was sorry about her husband's death.

"We wanted Geoff Hoon to accept responsibility and apologise for that," she said.

Fact of war?

BBC defence correspondent Paul Adams said military personnel to whom he had spoken thought the case "desperately sad" but accepted such shortages were a fact of military life.

A recent National Audit Office report concluded there had been problems with the supply of vital equipment but also praised the scale and speed of the military operation in Iraq.

Conservative shadow defence secretary Nicholas Soames, who has urged Mr Hoon to resign, welcomed the "apology" but said the minister should not dodge responsibility for kit shortages.

Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman Sir Menzies Campbell said he did not like "ritual" resignation calls.

But he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there was a "moral obligation" on all politicians to ensure troops had personal protection kit.

A spokesman for the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said defence ministers "treat their employees in a gross and crass manner with the attitude of 'not me guv'".

Read a selection of your comments below.

The British armed services have always had the best people but the poorest of equipment and political support
Tommy, London
I have just retired from the armed services and having served with the armed forces during the conflict I know that we did not have enough of the equipment we needed. The British armed services have always had the best people but the poorest of equipment and political support. This is yet another example of an uncaring government in their ivory towers.
Tommy, London

However much planning and preparation goes into war, it is still high risk and mistakes will, unfortunately, be made. If a top minister resigns every time a mistake is made, however far along the chain, we would be changing ministers daily...

The shortages of equipment were far wider than body armour. I personally know of one soldier who sent home for boots, sunglasses and a personal first aid kit. I cannot comment further because the soldier concerned is still serving.
Keith, Birmingham

Shortage of essential military safety equipment is typical of both the UK and the US. It is indeed a disgrace. High level people escape responsibility all too often. If a petty officer, sergeant or junior officer had caused the shortages you can be sure there would be an investigation followed by courts martial and punishment. Not so with high level government officials who cause many deaths and injuries because of ignorance, negligence, budget considerations, and lack of direct accountability.
James H. Carlisle, San Diego, USA

We need more than apologies
Louise, Edinburgh
Mr Hoon's apology is too little too late. We need more than apologies. If we must continue to occupy Iraq then it is clear that the troops should be much better equipped. This tragic death and many others on both sides of the conflict could have been averted if we had not rushed headlong into this "war on terror".
Louise, Edinburgh, UK

If an employee of a company died because his safety wear was confiscated by a manager, then that company would be prosecuted by the Health and Safety Executive. Why should Geoff Hoon get away with just saying sorry?
Peter Wagstaff, Mirfield, UK

What apology? Hoon said that he was sorry about what had happened but that is not the same thing as an apology.

The fact of the matter is that if the Treasury did not continually squeeze the defence budget, British forces would not be sent into harm's way with obsolete and non-existent equipment. It is a disgrace the way that this government is content to bask in the kudos that the men and women of the British armed forces bring it, whilst continually cutting back on the defence budget.
Adam, London

If Tony Blair insists on putting our troops in harm's way, he should at least ensure that they are protected as well as possible. The 'peace' is costing the British taxpayer a fortune already, the extra cost of properly equipping our forces would be a minimal percentage of the total.
Alan Brant, New Milton, Hants

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon
"I hope to meet Mrs Roberts again early next week"

Samantha Roberts, Sgt Steve Roberts' widow
"How many men have to die before this becomes a major issue?"

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