Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page



31 Jan 2008 : Column WS43



31 Jan 2008 : Column WS43

Written Statements

Thursday 31 January 2008

Armed Forces: Coroners' Inquests

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Bridget Prentice) 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. The Government are very proud of our service men and women who have served in operations overseas. We owe them a great debt of gratitude for the job they have done, and are continuing to do. They risk their lives to protect the interests of the United Kingdom. With admirable courage and skill they help to build strong, stable and democratic nations. We honour those who have given their lives in this work, and we remain strongly committed to providing our best possible support to their families.

We made Statements to the House on 5 June 2006 (Official Report, col.4WS), 12 October 2006 (Official Report, col. 26WS), 18 December 2006 (Official Report, col. 112WS), 29 March 2007 (Official Report, col. 121WS) 20 June 2007 (Official Report, col. 97WS) and 30 October 2007 (Official Report, col. 36WS) with information about the conduct of inquests by the Oxfordshire and Wiltshire and Swindon coroners. Today we are announcing progress which has been made since the Written Ministerial Statement in October. This Statement shows the position at 21 January, since when unfortunately there has been one further fatality in Afghanistan.

Background

Coroners are independent judicial officers appointed and paid for by the relevant local authority. Their officers and staff are employed by the local authority and/or the police.

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 inquest—both the investigation into the death and the holding of the public hearing into the death—is conducted by the coroner with jurisdiction which derives from where the body lies.

In the case of deaths of service men and women whose bodies were flown into RAF Brize Norton until it ceased being used for repatriations on 31 March 2007, the Oxfordshire coroner, Nicholas Gardiner, has had initial jurisdiction. In the case of deaths of service men and women whose bodies have been flown into RAF Lyneham since 1 April 2007, the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, David Masters, has initial jurisdiction.

In terms of the Coroners Act 1988, a coroner may transfer jurisdiction to another coroner. This may be done as long as the body lies within the district of the coroner transferring jurisdiction and provided the coroner to whom jurisdiction is transferred consents.

31 Jan 2008 : Column WS44

Since late December 2006 the Oxfordshire coroner’s practice was to transfer jurisdiction to coroners closer to the next of kin wherever possible; this practice has been continued by the Wiltshire and Swindon coroner since 1 April 2007. Some inquests of deaths of service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan before December 2006 have also been transferred to other coroners.

Progress with Inquests

At the time of the October 2007 Written Ministerial Statement, we reported that since additional funding had been provided by the Government to assist the Oxfordshire coroner, 104 inquests had been held, 90 into the overseas deaths of service personnel and 14 into the deaths of civilians in Iraq whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton.

Since October, a further 19 inquests have been held into the deaths of service personnel who died in operations overseas whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton or RAF Lyneham. This makes a total of 123 overseas military inquests held since June 2006.

Since hostilities opened there have been a total of 144 inquests into the deaths of service personnel who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan including one serviceman who died of his injuries in the UK. In two further cases, no formal inquest was held, but the deaths were taken into consideration during inquest proceedings for those who died in the same incident.

Open Inquests

Pre 31 March 2007 fatalities

There remain 41 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated via RAF Brize Norton prior to 31 March 2007. The Oxfordshire coroner has retained jurisdiction in 32 of these cases; nine of these inquests have been transferred to coroners closer to the next of kin. Hearing dates have been set in 22 cases. This includes the inquests into the deaths of 14 crew members who died together in the Nimrod crash on 2 September 2006 which will be heard together. In the remaining 19 inquests investigations are ongoing but it has not yet been possible for an inquest date to be set. The oldest individual military inquest for which no date has been set is that into the death of Lieutenant Palmer who died on 15 April 2006. The Board of Inquiry into Lieutenant Palmer’s death is yet to report. In addition there are 10 inquests into fatalities which were repatriated via RAF Lyneham prior to 1 April 2007. These relate to the deaths of 10 crew members who died together in the crash of Hercules XV179 on 30 January 2005. The Wiltshire and Swindon coroner, David Masters, held pre inquest hearings in February and November 2007 and the inquests will be heard together starting on 31 March.

Post 1 April 2007 fatalities

Since October 2007, additional resources have been provided by the Government to ensure that a backlog of inquests will not build up in the Wiltshire and Swindon jurisdiction now that fatalities are being repatriated via RAF Lyneham. These have enabled

31 Jan 2008 : Column WS45

the coroner, Mr Masters, to engage an additional assistant deputy coroner together with an additional coroner’s officer and administrative support and to provide appropriate accommodation to hold military inquests. These extra resources are helping to ensure that bereaved families are responded to sensitively and speedily following conclusions of the investigations. Mr Masters is continuing the practice of transferring military inquests to a coroner closer to the bereaved family, where possible. There remain 58 inquests to be concluded into the deaths of service personnel who died in Iraq and Afghanistan whose bodies were repatriated after 1 April 2007. Of these, Mr Masters has retained 32 inquests while 26 inquests are being conducted by coroners closer to the next of kin. Inquest hearing dates have been set in 10 of these cases. In the remaining 48 investigations are ongoing but it has not yet been possible to set an inquest date.

Inquests into the deaths of service personnel who returned home injured

There remain five inquests to be held of service personnel who returned home injured and subsequently died of their injuries. We are very grateful for the efforts of all the coroners involved in conducting these inquests. We shall continue to keep the House informed on a quarterly basis about progress through the remaining inquests. I have placed tables in the Libraries of both Houses which outline the status of all cases and date of death of each case. Copies are also available in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

Liaison with the Next of Kin

It is of the greatest importance that the next of kin have full information about the progress on the inquest of their deceased next of kin.

We have been working on better supporting bereaved military families. The Written Ministerial Statement issued on 7 June 2007 by my right honourable friend the then Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Adam Ingram), gives details of the support which is now being provided and we continue to look for opportunities to improve our procedures. A new booklet has just been produced, to help explain inquest and Board of Inquiry procedures to bereaved families.

Armed Forces: Mental Health

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Mr Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I can inform the House that the Defence Analytical Services Agency (DASA) will be publishing its second quarterly report recording figures on service personnel assessed with a mental disorder on its website www.dasa.mod.uk today. I shall also place copies in the Library of the House.



31 Jan 2008 : Column WS46

The findings, consistent with DASA's first report, show that the numbers of service personnel assessed with a mental disorder for the first time at one of our departments of community mental health in second quarter 2007 are low—around five per 1,000 strength, or 0.5 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. The numbers of service personnel assessed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for the first time during the same period are very low—around 0.3 per 1,000 strength or 0.03 per cent of the total Armed Forces population. They indicate that while service personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely to be assessed with PTSD than those who served in more benign environments, the actual numbers of individuals affected—26 among those who had deployed, seven among those not deployed; and five cases where the deployment history could not be identified from centrally available patient records—are very low.

We take very seriously the risk of service personnel developing mental illness and attach a high priority to ensuring that individuals have access to the appropriate advice and, if needed, treatment at the right time. We have measures in place to increase awareness at all levels and to mitigate the development of operational stresses. We have mental health professionals available in theatre and are also increasingly using trauma risk management (TRiM)—a model of peer group mentoring—within the operational environment. Where further treatment is required, our mental health services back in the UK are configured to provide community-based mental healthcare within a military environment in line with national best practice.

For those who have left the Armed Forces, I made a joint announcement with the Department of Health in November of the extension of priority treatment to all cases where an individual's doctor considers his condition may be due to service, and of the launch of the first of a number of pilots of a new community-based veterans' mental health service. This service will provide assessment and, where appropriate, treatment from experts in veterans' mental health. Veterans will be able to access the service directly or through their GP, ex-service organisations, the Veterans' Welfare Service, or social service departments. The pilots at the Staffordshire and Shropshire Foundation Healthcare Trust and Camden and Islington are now open; Cardiff, Middlesbrough, St Austell and Scotland are due to follow. If the pilots prove successful, the model will be rolled out more widely across the UK.

As an interim measure, and to assist those veterans not in the catchment areas of one of the new community mental health pilots, we have expanded our medical assessment programme (MAP) based at St Thomas's Hospital, London, to include assessments of veterans with mental health symptoms with operational service from 1982 and whose GPs are concerned that they may not understand the military background of the condition or the appropriate treatment.

The MoD is the single biggest contributor to Combat Stress. Last year we gave it £2.5 million in fees for the care of individuals whose mental health conditions are accepted by the war pensions scheme as due to their military service. I recently announced a further

31 Jan 2008 : Column WS47

increase of 45 per cent in the rate of fees to be met by the department. In cash terms, this sees the daily fee paid by the MoD to Combat Stress for the treatment of each eligible war pensioner increase from around £180 to around £260 a day. This represents a significant boost to the charity's finances. This substantial increase demonstrates the department's continuing commitment to help Combat Stress play an appropriate part in treating veterans with mental health problems and will help Combat Stress deliver an enhanced capability to treat war pensioners.

The publication of the second results of our new method of collecting and analysing the mental health data demonstrates our continuing commitment to understanding the true relationship between service on deployed operations and mental ill-health and to making the results available to inform Parliament and the public.

I am confident that the more comprehensive quarterly reports will offer an increased understanding of psychiatric morbidity in the UK Armed Forces as the dataset grows over the coming years. It is our intent to publish subsequent quarterly reports on the same DASA website and to place a copy in the Library of the House as they become available.

Armed Forces: Porton Down Veterans

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence (Derek Twigg) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The Ministry of Defence has for some months been in discussions with solicitors representing a group of Porton Down veterans regarding compensation claims arising out of their participation in the programme of trials undertaken at the chemical defence establishment during the Cold War. I am pleased to report that an

31 Jan 2008 : Column WS48

amicable settlement has now been reached with respect to these claims. This settlement is without admission of liability by the Ministry of Defence and involves the payment of a global sum of £3 million in full and final settlement of all claims made by the group.

The Government have in the past made clear the debt owed by the nation to those who took part in the trials at Porton Down designed to ensure that the United Kingdom had the defensive and deterrent capabilities to counter the real and horrific threat that chemical weapons would be used against our Armed Forces or civilian population, as they had against others; the security of the country rested on these trials and the contribution of those who took part in them.

The trials were in many cases conducted under considerable pressures of time as new threats emerged. The Government accept that there were aspects of the trials where there may have been shortcomings and where, in particular, the life or health of participants may have been put at risk. The Government sincerely apologise to those who may have been affected.

Firearms: Statistics

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing (Tony McNulty) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The statistics for 1 April 2006 to 31 March 2007 show that the number of police operations in which firearms were authorised was 18,053.

The police discharged a conventional firearm in three incidents.

Armed response vehicles were deployed on 14,530 occasions and there were 6,728 authorised firearms officers in England and Wales.

Full details are set out in the tables below:



31 Jan 2008 : Column WS49



31 Jan 2008 : Column WS50

Number of Operations in which Firearms were Authorised
2001-022002-032003-042004-052005-062006-07

Total

13,991

14,827

16,657

15,981

18,891

18,053

Avon and Somerset

195

262

311

333

247

285

Bedfordshire

237

301

442

475

575

684

Cambridgeshire

114

57

104

241

201

207

Cheshire

419

451

397

358

367

340

Cleveland

37

170

453

530

657

293

City of London

40

131

364

404

323

239

Cumbria

71

77

72

152

112

92

Derbyshire

275

401

369

287

305

223

Devon and Cornwall

101

96

112

71

84

80

Dorset

184

193

231

223

263

354

Durham

89

83

156

144

291

340

Essex

323

312

275

296

432

245

Gloucestershire

165

185

127

176

229

280

Gtr Manchester

580

518

507

461

478

481

Hampshire

198

162

208

237

289

352

Hertfordshire

112

172

195

185

187

280

Humberside

297

187

183

206

362

235

Kent

115

137

207

163

219

170

Lancashire

232

238

318

241

240

410

Leicestershire

300

268

295

260

363

334

Lincolnshire

477

392

386

294

220

157

Merseyside

1,020

628

751

733

669

727

Metropolitan

2,447

3,199

3,563

2,964

4,711

3,878

Norfolk

175

200

178

195

175

153

Northamptonshire

43

138

148

158

137

156

Northumbria

1,440

1,275

1,140

977

611

332

North Yorkshire

92

100

147

185

183

282

Nottinghamshire

384

452

459

408

394

289

South Yorkshire

258

463

484

546

749

737

Staffordshire

232

281

255

216

171

250

Suffolk

163

270

251

153

202

256

Surrey

245

247

203

151

222

222

Sussex

248

204

280

187

190

201

Thames Valley

179

167

195

289

427

264

Warwickshire

130

149

164

124

180

162

West Mercia

117

91

197

162

122

155

West Midlands

822

902

1,377

1,264

1,044

1,557

West Yorkshire

757

604

575

853

1,335

1,272

Wiltshire

45

58

63

88

139

226

Dyfed Powys

28

29

28

51

63

72

Gwent

20

37

40

81

94

133

North Wales

302

259

197

223

350

340

South Wales

283

281

250

236

279

308


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page