THERE was a “missed opportunity” for army chiefs to step in when temperatures rose above 50C in Iraq before a Scottish Territorial Army soldier died of heatstroke, a coroner has said.
Private Jason Smith, 32, from Hawick, had repeatedly told medical staff he was feeling unwell due to the soaring temperatures, after being deployed 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.
Pte Smith, who was serving with the 52nd Lowland Regiment and was assigned to the First Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers, was stationed at the Al Marab athletics stadium in the city of Al Alamarah.
The inquest at Oxford Coroner’s Court, the second to be held into Pte Smith’s death, heard conditions were tough in the disused stadium and that it was “an unbearable, hot, dusty hell hole” and that a number of soldiers reported feeling unwell.
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.”
In her narrative conclusion, Ms Thompson described the circumstances as: “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.”
But she added it was not possible to prove that those factors “specifically caused, or there was a direct causal link, between them and Pte Smith’s sad death”.
The day before he died, Pte Smith reported to the army medic with heat exhaustion and was advised to rest. That evening, he was deployed to a power station. The coroner said: “The following day, he deployed twice to a petrol station but, before he was stood down, had spent some time in intense heat inside a Saxon vehicle.”
She added that the time inside the vehicle was most likely the “tipping point” that led to Pte Smith’s deterioration.
Ms Thompson also noted that heat illness is now dealt with in a different way by the army.
A second inquest was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010. Pte Smith’s mother, Catherine, said she was glad to have fought for a second inquest on the grounds that the Human Rights Act should apply to troops serving abroad. However, after the inquest, she said: “I can now grieve.”