Coroner issues second verdict on Hawick soldier’s death in Iraq

Catherine Smith
Catherine Smith

A coroner has said the military missed an opportunity to intervene in the days before Hawick solider Jason Smith died from heatstroke in soaring temperatures in Iraq.

Private Smith was a member of a Territorial Army company based in Galashiels and was serving alongside regulars from the KOSB when he died on August 13 in 2003.

Private Jason Smith

Private Jason Smith

The 32-year-old had repeatedly told medical staff that he was feeling unwell shortly after being posted with Galashiels comrades in June of that year.

Two inquests have been told that temperatures rose to more that 50C (122F) and that a number of soldiers had suffered heat-related problems.

The assistant coroner for Oxfordshire Alison Thompson conducted a second inquest over five days into the death of Private Smith.

In a narrative judgement, she concluded: “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.

The coroner at the first inquest, Andrew Walker, ruled that death had been caused by serious failure on the part of the British Army in recognising the difficulty the TA soldier was having in adjusting to the climate.

Mr Walker also said he had been wrong to allow that inquest to go ahead because the Ministry of Defence had failed to reveal vital information.

A second inquest was ordered and the soldier’s mother Catherine Smith has been reacting to today’s ruling.

She said: “It has been a long 10-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.”

Solicitor Clair Hilder of Hodge Jones and Allen, has been part of a teaming fighting the Smith case.

She commented: “We are 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.”

Private Smith was repatriated to the Borders and buried with military honours in Hawick.