Apology to family after soldier died in Iraq heat

Pte Jason Smith: Collapsed after suffering heatstroke. Picture: PA
Pte Jason Smith: Collapsed after suffering heatstroke. Picture: PA
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The mother of a Territorial Army soldier who died of heatstroke in Iraq more than ten years ago has received an apology from the Ministry of Defence.

An inquest last year ruled there was a “missed opportunity” for army chiefs to step in before Private Jason Smith collapsed in temperatures in excess of 50C in Iraq.

The 32-year-old, from Hawick in the Borders, had repeatedly told medical staff he was feeling unwell due to the soaring temperatures after being deployed to Iraq in June 2003.

He collapsed on 13 August that year with a fatally high body temperature of 41.4C. He was taken to hospital but suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be saved.

Assistant coroner for Oxfordshire Alison Thompson, recording her findings at the end of the five-day hearing, said: “When climatic conditions deteriorated in August and the number of heat casualties increased, there was a missed opportunity to intervene.”

Those in charge of the soldiers could have “become more rigorous in monitoring individuals” when temperatures soared, making sure they were treated for their symptoms and had enough rest, she added.

An original inquest was held in 2006 but a second was ordered by the Supreme Court after Pte Smith’s mother Catherine successfully applied for a new public hearing, complying with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Mrs Smith has now reached a settlement with the MoD and also received an apology over her son’s death.

She said: “It has been a long fight for information and I am glad that the Ministry of Defence has finally acknowledged that there was a missed opportunity to intervene, and the risks that contributed to Jason’s death could have been reduced.

“I have continued to fight because no other families should have to go through what I have been through.

“I have been reassured that changes have been made as a result of Jason’s death.”

The MoD said it has made changes since Pte Smith’s death to reduce the risk of heat-related injury.

The apology by David Evans QC, on behalf of the MoD, said: “We apologise unreservedly for the death of your son, Private Jason Smith, whilst he was on active service in Iraq on 13 August 2003.

“The Ministry of Defence acknowledges the coroner’s findings that the risk of Jason’s death could have been reduced by adherence to the policy in place at the time, including in relation to climatic monitoring, better advice on hydration, medical treatment, casualty reporting and the availability of air conditioning.

“There was a missed opportunity to monitor and intervene, and become more rigorous in the monitoring of Jason.”

Solicitor Clair Hilder said: “I am glad that we have been able to reach a settlement with the Ministry of Defence and that Mrs Smith’s case has finally come to a conclusion.

“Particularly important to Mrs Smith was the apology which has been secured. It is just disappointing that it has taken so long to obtain and that the Ministry of Defence has fought her every step of the way.”