Soldier’s death: army could have cut the risks

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A coroner has ruled the military missed an opportunity to intervene in the days before Hawick soldier Jason Smith died from the heat in Iraq.

The 32-year-old repeatedly told medics he was unwell after being posted with comrades from a Territorial Army unit based in Galashiels in June 2003.

Private Jason Smith

Private Jason Smith

He died serving alongside regulars from the KOSB on August 13 that year.

Two inquests heard that temperatures rose to more than 50C and a number of soldiers suffered heat-related problems.

After a five-day inquest, Oxfordshire’s assistant coroner, Alison Thompson, concluded on Monday: “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 said it wasn’t possible to prove that these factors specifically caused, or were a direct link, to the soldier’s death.

However, the coroner did say that advice and information given to soldiers, in what she described as arduous conditions, was inconsistent and inadequate – although she noted that the importance of drinking enough water had been stressed.”

Private Smith’s mother Catherine commented: “It has been a long 10-year fight and I am glad 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.”

Family solicitor Clair Hilder said: “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.”