Page last updated at 03:56 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 04:56 UK

Differing views of soldier death

By Giancarlo Rinaldi
South of Scotland reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Jason Smith
Jason Smith died of heat stroke in Iraq in August 2003

Private Jason Smith from Hawick in the Scottish Borders died of heat stroke in Iraq in August 2003 at the age of 32.

That much has been agreed by two investigations which have since been carried out into his death.

In other areas, however, very different conclusions have come from a coroner's inquest and a British Army inquiry.

One ruled that the Territorial Army soldier would not have died if "proper procedures" had been followed as temperatures soared in Al Amara.

The other concluded that the fact that he was "very overweight" and his "probable lack of fitness" were contributory factors.

In November 2006, the deputy assistant coroner for Oxfordshire, Andrew Walker, heard a wide range of evidence.

He criticised the failure to recognise the problems the Scots soldier was suffering as his body temperature reached 41.1C.

"In my view Pte Smith would not have died if the proper procedures had been followed," he said at the time.

"He should have been taken out of that environment to be treated."

'Dusty hellhole'

He also said that medical advice cards which were distributed gave "wholly inadequate instructions".

The inquest heard claims that some serving soldiers were getting dehydration powders sent to Iraq from the UK, after supplies ran out.

It was also told that people were collapsing on a daily basis in the "ferocious" heat.

One soldier described conditions in the Maysan province as a "hot, dusty hellhole".

Maysan
Pte Smith was stationed in the Maysan province of Iraq

An Army board of inquiry report in May 2007 highlighted other issues.

It said that, at 17 stones, Pte Smith was "at the higher level of obese".

Concerns were expressed about his body mass index (BMI), which measures height against weight, which stood at 34.

"A BMI of above 30 is generally taken as a point at which health becomes an issue," it said.

"It is the opinion of the board that Pte Smith's death was caused by a number of factors.

"These were the fact that he was very overweight, his probable lack of fitness, the extreme temperatures and lack of air conditioning."

The report called for tougher medical checks on TA troops being sent into war zones.

'Unbearable conditions'

Its findings were rejected by the soldier's family who said they felt "let down" by the Army.

His mother, Catherine Smith, said he took his job and fitness seriously.

She said the Army was to blame for putting its soldiers in "unbearable conditions without air conditioning and proper medical facilities".

The story might easily have ended there.

Instead, Pte Smith's death has become the subject of a test case on whether human rights law can be extended to soldiers in battlefields abroad.

Nearly six years after he died, a ruling on that issue has now been delivered.



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SEE ALSO
Army inquiry criticised by family
03 May 07 |  South of Scotland
Heat vests for Iraq troops tested
19 Mar 07 |  South of Scotland
Army blamed for Iraq heat death
10 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
Families 'sent soldiers supplies'
09 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
Soldiers collapsed daily - claim
08 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
'Hellhole' claim heard at inquest
07 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
Inquest starts into soldier death
06 Nov 06 |  South of Scotland
Soldiers' bodies arrive from Iraq
21 Aug 03 |  Lincolnshire

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