Mother welcomes second inquest verdict on Hawick soldier death

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MORE could have been done to save Hawick soldier Jason Smith.

That was the verdict delivered this week following a second inquest into the death of Private Smith, who died of heatstroke while serving with the Territorial Army in Iraq ten years ago.

In delivering her conclusion, Alison M Thompson, assistant coroner said: “Death on active service overseas, involving a high tempo of operations in extreme temperatures, the risk of which would have been reduced by adherence to the then policy on heat illness, in terms of climatic monitoring, hydration, medical treatment and casualty reporting, and by the availability of air conditioned accommodation and vehicles,”

Private Smith died on August 13 2003 after the 32-year-old collapsed from heatstroke when his body temperature reached fatal levels. Daytime temperatures in Iraq at the time were well over 50 degrees centigrade.

Reacting to the verdict, Private Smith’s mother, Catherine, said: “It has been a long ten-year fight for information and I am glad that the coroner has recognised that there was a missed opportunity to intervene when heat casualties in Al Amarah increased in August 2003 and, that the risks contributing to Jason’s death could have been reduced.”

The first inquest found that Private Smith’s death was caused by a “serious failure” on the part of the British Army in not recognising the difficulty he was having adjusting to the climate.

The Coroner on the first inquest also agreed that he had been wrong to proceed with the inquest in 2006 when it was discovered that the Ministry of

Defence (MoD) had failed to disclose a vital investigation into the death.

Following the inquest, Catherine Smith launched a test case regarding the applicability of the Human Rights Act to troops serving abroad. This was one

of the first cases to be heard by the newly formed Supreme Court in 2010.

Clair Hilder, who represented Mrs Smith, said: “We’re pleased to hear the coroner recognise that more could have been done to reduce the risks surrounding Jason’s death. Despite indications prior to the inquest that the MoD accepted the failings identified by the first inquest; it was disappointing that during the last week MoD personnel have given evidence that no such failings took place prior to Jason’s death.

“Particularly astounding was the evidence of the MoD’s Head of Medical Operations and Plans who steadfastly defended the hydration advice given to soldiers based on temperatures in Salisbury rather than the 50 degrees centigrade heat experienced in Iraq.”