Sir Michael Fallon apologises to mother of soldier killed by Iraq roadside blast

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Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon has apologised personally to the mother of a British soldier killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq while riding in a lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover.

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, died in July 2005.

A 12-year legal battle by his mother Sue Smith has resulted in a formal apology from Sir Michael, who said bringing alternative protected vehicles into service “could have saved lives”, according to the BBC.

Ms Smith said the apology from the Defence Secretary was “bittersweet”, adding: “I’d like it to be that his death made a difference. He’s not just a casualty of Iraq.”

The family’s lawyer, Jocelyn  Cockburn, said today the “strong apology” was the end of a long journey but warned against Conservative plans to stop similar cases being brought through the courts.

British army soldier Private Phillip Hewett (Reuters)

She said the Government want to change tack from a 2013 Supreme Court decision that established soldiers on the battlefield have a right to life under the Human Rights Act.

The ruling helped families bring legal action against the Ministry of Defence, but in future the department wants to run its own compensation scheme for complaints. Sending the letter to the Hewett family while persevering with plans to stop court cases “doesn’t add up”, she said.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Defence to the BBC said: “Our proposals would be more generous, with compensation paid at a rate a court would likely award if it paid in a claimants favour.”

Last year, the Chilcot Inquiry found a string of Ministry of Defence failings in the preparation for the Iraq war, including a delay in replacing the Snatch Land Rovers. A number of families were given the go-ahead to bring compensation claims against the Government.

In a letter to Ms Smith seen by the BBC, the Defence Secretary wrote: “I am fully aware of the struggle you have had to bring this matter to court over the last decade and I recognise that this has had a significant impact on you and your family.

“I would like to express directly to you my deepest sympathies and apologise for the delay, resulting in decisions taken at the time in bringing into service alternative protected vehicles which could have saved lives.”

An MoD spokeswoman said the army now has a number of highly capable and extremely well protected patrol vehicles, including Mastiff, Ridgback, Husky and Wolfhound,

A former head of the British Army, General Sir Mike Jackson, said the Snatch Land Rovers had been used in Northern Ireland and then transferred to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein.  He said: “It’s a fair assumption that a more heavily armoured vehicle as we eventually received for use in Iraq and Afghanistan offered and does offer better protection.”

However he cautioned against the notion that all risk can be eradicated from being in the army.

He said: “We need to be careful when we need to talk about duty to protect. Commanders … exercise their best judgment in the tactical circumstances to get the job done and at minimum risk. And risk cannot be eradicated from soldiering. It sometimes seems some people think it can be.”

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