Families of servicemen and women killed in Iraq conflict can seek compensation

Three appeal judges announced the decision after a hearing in London.

In total, 14 servicemen from Plymouth were killed in the Iraq conflict.

Relatives say the Ministry of Defence failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation.

MoD bosses say decisions about battlefield equipment are for politicians and military commanders.

Eight members of Stonehouse Barracks-based 3 Commando Brigade – Operator Mechanic Ian Seymour of the Royal Navy; Major Jason Ward; Captain Philip Guy; WO2 Mark Stratford; C/Sgt John Cecil; and Mne Sholto Hedenskog, all of the Royal Marines; and Sgt Les Hehir and L/Bdr Llewelyn Evans, both of 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery – were killed when the American Sea Knight helicopter they were travelling on crashed on the first day of the Iraq war on March 21, 2003.

Their deaths were followed by those of 24-year-old marine Christopher Maddison of 9 Assault Squadron Royal Marines and 33-year-old marine Maj Stephen Alexis Ballard, of 3 Commando Brigade.

In May 2003 Pte Andrew Kelly, of Tavistock – who was serving with the 3rd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment – died. He was just 18 years of age.

And in November 2006, Mne Jason Hylton, aged 33, and Cpl Ben Nowak, aged 27, both died while serving with 539 Assault Squadron.

A lawyer representing the families described the ruling as “an important victory”.

Today’s Court of Appeal announcement followed a ruling in June 2011 by a High Court judge, who said relatives could pursue claims on negligence grounds – but not under human rights legislation.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) appealed against Mr Justice Owen’s ruling on negligence claims – while the relatives challenged his findings on the human rights issue.

Today’s ruling follows a hearing in June before the then Master of the Rolls, Lord Neuberger, Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Rimer.

Legal action was started as a result of the deaths of a number of British soldiers following the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, judges heard.

Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, of Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was killed in a “friendly fire” incident in March 2003.

Soldiers Dan Twiddy, of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and Andy Julien, of Bolton, Greater Manchester, were badly hurt in the incident.

Private Phillip Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover was blown up.

Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, in February 2006, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, in August 2007.

Shubhaa Srinivasan, a partner with law firm Leigh Day & Co, which is representing the family of Cpl Allbutt and the surviving servicemen, said: “We await the verdict, having fought for many years to get these claims to court.

“We maintain that the MoD’s position has been morally and legally indefensible, as they owe a duty of care to those who fight on behalf of this country.

“British troops should at the very least have adequate equipment and training, ranging from the very basic such as a GPS devices, to sophisticated satellite tracker systems, which the Americans had available to them.

“It seems incredible that it was often left up to soldiers themselves to buy this equipment as they felt compelled to, so as to better protect their own lives and the lives of those they were responsible for.”

Mr Srinivasan added: “We are delighted with today’s decision, we recognise there is still work to be done to ensure that the MoD is held to account for what happened.”

He said it was “a landmark decision”.

“The Appellate Court has categorically rejected the MoD’s argument that the MoD can release itself from owing a duty of care to soldiers who suffered deaths and injuries in the battlefield due to alleged inadequate or poor equipment,” he added.

“It is a morally and legally indefensible position to take and we say rightly received short shrift from the Appellate Court.

“As a prudent employer, the MoD can have no excuses now and must get on with the business of ensuring that troops are properly equipped, if not, it can be vulnerable to negligence claims.

“The court ruling also makes it clear the MoD can no longer hide behind arguments relating to complexities in procuring equipment and allocation of scarce resources to evade a duty of care to adequately equip its servicemen and women who are being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”

Mr Srinivasan went on: “Soldiers paid a heavy price for their sacrifice and we strongly feel we should be able to ask a British court to consider whether the MoD breached its duty of care to them.”

Debi Allbutt, widow of Cpl Allbutt, burst into tears and put her hand to her mouth as she heard the news.

She has fought a near decade-long battle to get the chance to sue the MoD for negligence.

Watching the breaking news on a big screen at Swan Bank Methodist Mission in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, with local Labour MP Joan Walley, Mrs Allbutt wiped tears from her eyes and smiled as she heard the ruling.

Ms Walley, also fighting back tears, stood up and said: “I just want to stand up and congratulate Debi for everything that you’ve done.”

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