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In addition to these targets, the service is required to meet centrally promulgated targets relating to replying to correspondence from honourable Members, making payments to suppliers and reducing sick absence levels. The service will also look to maintain Charter Mark and Investors in People accreditation following reassessments during 2007-08.
|Other Targets||Target 2007-08||Target 2006-07|
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs (Harriet Harman) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence and I wish to make the following Statement to the House about the inquests of service men and women who have died overseas that fall within the jurisdiction of the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner.
All casualties suffered by the UK Armed Forces are a source of profound regret. UK service personnel have put their lives on the line to help to build strong, stable and democratic nations and to protect the interests of the United Kingdom, and we cannot pay high enough tribute to the job that they are doing or the sacrifice that some of them have made. We are committed to assisting the families of UK service personnel who have died on operations overseas when their loved ones are returned to the UK.
We made Statements to the House on 5 June, 12 October and 18 December with information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire coroner and today we are announcing progress made since the Written Ministerial Statement in December.
Each death of a service man or woman killed in an operation overseas whose body is repatriated to England and Wales is subject to an inquest. The inquestboth the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the deathis conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction that derives from where the body lies. In the case of deaths of service men and women whose bodies are flown into Brize Norton military airbase, the Oxfordshire coroner has jurisdiction.
In the 12 months preceding the June Written Ministerial Statement, in addition to the non-Armed Forces inquests that the coroner has in his jurisdiction, Mr Gardiner and his deputy coroners had conducted 31 inquests into the deaths of servicemen who died in Iraq. One inquest was dealt with by the Powys coroner and one by the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner.
At the time of the 5 June Written Ministerial Statement, there remained 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel killed in Iraq and 11 inquests of civilians whose bodies were flown into Brize Norton.
When I made the Written Ministerial Statement in June, we had asked the coroner to provide details of inquests only into those deaths in his jurisdiction relating to Iraq. By the time of the October Statement, the coroner had provided us with details of outstanding inquests into six deaths from previous conflicts or other military exercises abroad and three further civilian casualties, the earliest of which occurred in 1998. The position in relation to the inquests in these additional deaths was reported to the House in the 12 October Statement. Including these deaths, there remained 59 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel and 11 inquests into the deaths of civilians at the time of the October Statement.
By the time of the December Written Ministerial Statement, the coroner had provided us with details of outstanding inquests into six deaths from a military exercise in the Czech Republic in 2004. Including these deaths, there remained 48 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel and nine inquests into the deaths of civilians who lost their lives in Iraq and whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton.
As of today, there remain 25 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel in military conflicts and exercises overseas whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton and four inquests into the deaths of civilians who lost their lives in Iraq and whose bodies were repatriated to RAF Brize Norton.
Three additional coroners officers, Mr Geoff Webb, Mr George Gatt and Mr Derrick Bines, have been appointed by Thames Valley Police to support the existing complement of five officers and one officers team leader in the Oxfordshire coroners office. They are supporting the coroners in various ways, including by contacting witnesses, listing inquests and providing support at inquests.
An additional administrative assistant, Ms Stella Hartley-Morris, has been appointed to the existing administrative assistant in the Oxfordshire coroners office to provide administrative support for the investigations and inquests.
At the time of the December Written Ministerial Statement, all inquests of deaths had been allocated to the assistant deputy coroners. Nineteen inquests had been held (the WMS mistakenly stated 18 inquests), the inquest into the death of Sergeant Roberts was currently being held and a further 50 inquests had been listed for hearing (the WMS mistakenly reported 51 inquests).
The position now is that 56 inquests have been held, 46 into the deaths of servicemen and 10 into the deaths of civilians. All the remaining 25 inquests into servicemens deaths have been listed for hearing and pre-inquest hearings have been set in the remaining four civilian inquests. We hope that all the inquests will have been heard by the end of June. We are very grateful for the efforts of all those involved.
We shall continue to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. Below is a table that outlines the status of all cases and the date of death of each case.
We have not included in this Statement inquests into a further 66 service personnel deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan which occurred after 15 May 2006 and which were repatriated into Brize Norton, as the additional support for the coroner outlined above was intended only to clear the backlog of cases that he had in June. Sixteen of these cases have been dispersed to other coroners but there remain 50 inquests where the Oxfordshire coroner has retained jurisdiction which have been opened and adjourned.
Resources have now been made available to the Oxfordshire coroner to enable Andrew Walker to remain as assistant deputy coroner with Geoff Webb as coroners officer to complete those inquests where the Oxfordshire coroner assumed responsibility.
In order to further improve the service to families, I invited to meet me on 4 December 2006 the families of service personnel who died in Iraq whose inquests had been held. We are grateful to the 17 relatives of the 12 deceased service men and women who gave us the benefit of their views and experiences so as to improve the inquest system for the benefit of future families of members of the armed services who die abroad.
Following that meeting, we are working on providing families with better information about the inquest system and on how we can help families to have access to all material relevant to the inquest, and we are holding inquests closer to where the relatives live.
|Oxfordshire coroner: inquests of servicemen and related civilian deaths 1998 to May 2006|
|Date of death||Name of deceased||Allocated to||In process of being listed for hearing||Date listed||Date inquest heard|
|Italics denotes non-Iraq-related military death.|
|Underlined denotes civilian-Iraq-related death.|
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