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Ministry of Defence finally apologises to soldiers’ families after 10-year battle

Posted on: 18th August 2017

Long battle for justice which saw poorly armoured Snatch Land Rover vehicles removed from battle and led to human rights protections for armed service personnel, concludes

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has finally apologised to the families of servicemen killed in poorly armoured Snatch Land Rover vehicles during the Iraq War after ten years, says the families’ lawyer.

In letters to the Snatch Land Rover families, the Secretary of State for Defence, Sir Michael Fallon, has apologised for the MoD’s delay in introducing alternative protected vehicles which could have saved lives.

An extract from Michael Fallon’s letter says:

I am fully aware of the struggle you have had to bring this matter to Court over the last decade and I recognise this has had a significant impact on you and your family.

The Government entirely accepts the findings of Sir John Chilcot in the Iraq Inquiry in relation to Snatch Land Rover. I would like to express directly to you my deepest sympathies and apologise for the delay, resulting from the decisions taken at the time in bringing into service alternative protected vehicles which could have saved lives. I confirm that we have learnt lessons from this. The Government must and will ensure that our Armed Forces are always properly equipped and resourced.

The families’ lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn of London law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen, also received a letter from the Ministry of Defence confirming that it had learnt lessons from the Iraq Inquiry (Chilcot) Report. It said it had introduced ‘a stronger culture of challenge designed to minimize group think’ and ‘…developed a programme of work to minimise the likelihood of similar shortcomings’. It also said that ‘the Army is procuring the next generation of vehicles with the ability to upgrade their protection over time as threats change.

For ten years’ leading civil liberties lawyer, Jocelyn Cockburn has represented the families. During this time the MoD sought to strike out the case and in 2013 the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the families, in its landmark decision extending the duties owed by the MoD to soldiers ‘on the battlefield’ under the Human Rights Act 1998. In defending this case, the MoD made a number of arguments about providing protection to soldiers on the battlefield, including that it was too difficult and dangerous to impose a duty on the MoD to provide any protection. Despite this ruling, the MoD continued to fight the case and refused to accept any criticisms in relation to their use of the vehicles, until now.

“Many families of those killed and injured in Snatch Land Rovers have been devastated by, not only the tragedy itself, but also the failure of the MoD to acknowledge any failings over the last decade. During the years of MoD delay and procrastination over replacement of Snatch, many service personnel have tragically lost their lives in these inadequate vehicles which could not withstand the roadside bombs used by insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. I can fully understand why they should now feel that they are due an apology in similar terms to those received by my clients as well as recognition of their loss.”

Jocelyn Cockburn and her clients were instrumental in ensuring that the Chilcot Inquiry investigated the issue of Snatch Land Rovers in Iraq. It was immediately after giving evidence at Sir John Chilcot’s Iraq Inquiry in 2010 that former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced during a visit to troops in Afghanistan, that the Snatch Land Rover would be removed from theatre. Providing a significant victory to the families, albeit too late for their loved ones.

In July 2016, the Chilcot Report identified the failure to replace the vehicles with better armoured vehicles as one of the key equipment failings of the Iraq War.

Jocelyn Cockburn says: “This is an important victory for the Snatch Land Rover families who have had to fight every step of the way to achieve justice. The Ministry of Defence’s stance of ‘delay, deny and defend’ has caused untold suffering to already grief-stricken families over a needlessly long period. However, I am relieved that their battle is over and genuinely hope that their apology signals a sea-change in the way the MoD seeks to deal with bereaved service families.

“While the apology represents an unusually open approach by the MoD, no one should forget that the Government is making plans to prevent injured soldiers and families of those killed in combat from pursuing these sorts of cases in future. How can the MoD’s intention to introduce a ‘culture of challenge’ be taken at face value when at the same it is seeking to remove the avenues of challenge?

If plans to extend ‘combat immunity’ and remove human rights protections succeed, as the Government’s manifesto intends, then in future, cases like Snatch Land Rover would never be brought. The consequence of this would be to remove the MoD from scrutiny by the courts about its planning and preparation for combat – including in relation to providing safe equipment for our troops. As such, there is a real risk that by these changes our servicemen and women will become less safe.”

Sue Smith’s son Private Phillip Hewett was killed whilst driving a Snatch Land Rover in Al Amarah in Iraq on 16 July 2005. Philip told his mother that he was driving a Warrior tracked armoured vehicle rather than the Snatch, so that she would not worry. Prior to this, Philip had written to his uncle saying that some soldiers had purposely lost their driving licences so that they would not have to drive the Snatch.

Sue says: “Finally the fight is over. I can barely believe it has taken all this time to get the MoD to admit what so many already knew. I brought this case because I knew Snatch were unsafe and I wanted to prevent the unnecessary deaths of other soldiers. Little did I know that I would have to go to battle myself to do so.

“I have since found out that a great deal of the disclosure about Snatch, which, during my case, the MoD maintained was unavailable or was too difficult to provide, had already been handed over to Chilcot. Never for one minute did I think my family would be treated in this way.

“I feel that the MoD have been dishonest in their dealings with me and have put me through a great deal of unnecessary stress in continuing to fight this case. I think they wanted to break me so that I would walk away but, it only made me more determined to fight on. I hope that this case gives hope to families out there that you can prevail when you’re being bullied, no matter how powerful the bully seems to be.

“I also want to say that I owe a huge debt of gratitude to Jocelyn Cockburn and Hodge Jones & Allen for sticking with me and the other families throughout this long battle.”

Private Lee Ellis, the brother of Karla, was killed in Al Amarah on 26 February 2006. Karla Ellis says:

“The explanation I received about my brother Lee’s death never made sense and I was determined to get to the truth and keep the spotlight on the Government.

“I was sceptical about how successful we would be and was shocked when in 2013, the Supreme Court gave its verdict, saying that British Troops remain within the UK’s jurisdiction when deployed on active service abroad, and so attract the protections of the Human Rights Act. What a way to honour my brother, with the dedication and commitment of Sue, Colin, Jocelyn and Hodge Jones & Allen, we changed the law.

“What has been achieved is beyond my wildest dreams and I am so grateful that I’ve been able to honour my brother’s memory in this way. It’s been the longest of journeys but we have shown what can be achieved if you’re prepared to fight.”

Ends

For further information, please contact:
Kerry Jack at Black Letter Communications
kerry.jack@blacklettercommunications.co.uk
020 3567 1208

Notes for Editors

Response from Hodge Jones & Allen to the Better Combat Compensation consultation can be read here.

About Jocelyn Cockburn

Jocelyn has been at the centre of some of the most politically sensitive cases of the last decade. She has represented Neville Lawrence, the father of Stephen Lawrence, since 2004 when he instructed her to bring a judicial review challenge against the Director of Public Prosecutions for his decision not to prosecute anyone for the murder of his son. Ultimately the police reinvestigated the case and eventually two suspects were brought to court and convicted for his murder at the beginning of 2013. She also represents Mr Lawrence in ongoing matters including the undercover policing inquiry (in relation to allegations that his family were spied on by the Metropolitan Police) and in IPCC and NCA investigations regarding allegations of police misconduct.

She represented the family of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her learning-disabled daughter by setting fire to the family car after suffering years of harassment and disability hate crime by local youths. The case related to failures by Leicestershire Police and social services to protect them.

Many of her cases attract media attention and Jocelyn continually seeks new ways to communicate to the wider public the need for human rights protections, as well as legal aid, in an increasingly hostile political environment.

In 2015, Jocelyn was featured in a commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in a photography exhibition at the Supreme Court. Jocelyn was recognised for her work in championing the rights of those in the armed forces and some of the most vulnerable in our society. In June this year, she received an honorary Doctorate in Laws from the University of Kent.

About Hodge Jones and Allen

  • Hodge Jones and Allen is one of the UK’s most progressive law firms, renowned for doing things differently and fighting injustice. Its senior partner is Patrick Allen and managing partner is Vidisha Joshi.
  • For almost 40 years’ the firm has been at the centre of many of the UK’s landmark legal cases that have changed the lives and rights of many people.
  • The firm’s team of specialists have been operating across: Personal Injury, Medical Negligence, Industrial Disease, Civil Liberties, Criminal Defence, Court of Protection, Dispute Resolution, Employment, Family Law, Military Claims, Serious Fraud, Social Housing, Wills & Probate and Property Disputes.
  • In 2016 the firm launched Hearing their voices – a campaign to raise awareness and build conversations around the issues and the injustices we might all face.

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