Victory for soldier’s mother over vehicle inquiry

Author: By Kim Sengupta and Terri Judd

Susan Smith, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, was given permission to seek a High
Court judicial review relating to past use of the vehicles in Iraq and
Afghanistan. Her 21-year-old son Phillip Hewett, a private in the 1st
Battalion Staffordshire Regiment, died on July 16 2005, in the Al Amarah
region of Iraq in a roadside bomb attack on a patrol of three armoured
Snatch Land Rovers. Two other soldiers also died in the incident.

However, But Mr Justice Mitting refused her leave to challenge a Ministry of
Defence decision not to hold an inquiry into present and future deployment
of Snatch Land Rovers – a decision he described as “unimpeachable” in the
courts.

The Snatch was originally designed as a cheap and quick way of transporting
troops in Northern Ireland. It has been heavily criticised for failing to
protect against roadside bombs following a series of deaths, around 38 in
all, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr Justice Mitting said today that if a full
inquiry was eventually held into past deployment, three issues could be
investigated.

They are —should different equipment, such as the more heavily armoured
Cougar Mastiff, have been procured and deployed in 2005 and 2006. If so,
could the deaths of some or all of the soldiers have been avoided. And, if
this was the case, why was the equipment why was that equipment not
procured and deployed.

Mrs Smith, whose case is supported by the families of other soldiers killed in
similar incidents, said after the ruling: “I am delighted.” She added: “It
is only the first stage, but I am just glad that someone is listening. It
isn’t just me. You have got three other families here who have lost their
sons, all in similar circumstances.”

Only this week a coroner said he would be writing to the defence secretary to
call for a review of the use of light armoured vehicles as well as the
insufficient number of helicopters in Afghanistan.

Darren Salter, deputy coroner for Exeter and greater Devon, was speaking after
the inquest into the death of Trooper Jack Sadler, 21, of the Honourable
Artillery Company, who was killed when his Weapons Mounted Installation Kit
(WMIK) Land Rover ? which was leading a convoy carry heavy equipment – hit a
mine north of Sangin in December 2007 ? two and half years after Pte Hewett
was killed.

Mr Salter, who ruled the young soldier was unlawfully killed while on active
service, said he would be writing to Bob Ainsworth, adding: “I am reporting
the facts and findings of this inquest to the secretary of state for
defence, requesting a review and a response. It is difficult to imagine a
more difficult terrain, but there is an ever-increasing threat to slow
moving convoys. These vehicles clearly have their uses, the question is slow
moving convoys make it a considerable danger to those at the front.”

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