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The Barbara Panvel Column



Barbara Panvel writes ... Sgt Steve Roberts was killed three years ago in Basra in a ‘friendly fire incident' by a colleague's gun - a model which was known to fire to the left.

An Army Board of Inquiry report given to his widow this week says he might have been saved by his enhanced body armour, if only he hadn't been ordered to give it up because the regiment hadn't been supplied with enough sets.

This is no isolated incident: there are many other claims of soldiers on active service usingequipment which malfunctions - or which in some cases is missing altogether.

Here arejust a few examples.

Repeated requests made to the Ministry of Defence by pilots to fit Hercules fuel tanks with fire-suppressant foam systems were not granted and ten airmen and special forces were burned to death when their plane was shot down in Iraq.

The US has used these devices for 35 years. Why not follow good US practice?

An Iraqi mob killed members of the Royal Military Police - ‘Red Caps' - who were unable to call for help because there were not enough satellite phones to go round- only 27 shared amongst 1000 in Maysan province.

Meanwhile a Commons committee reported in April that the MoD was mishandling and wasting money.

It's not only those who die (and their families) who suffer.

Amongst returnees there is high level of psychiatric disorder, which in a number of casesjusthaven't been taken seriously enough.

There are physical side-effects too.

In March, ten soldiers' wives in one military unit suffered complications with their pregnancies; possibly the resultof anthrax vaccinations.

There is a dishonourable tradition of neglect building up.

After the 1991 Gulf War, service wives were found to have a 40% higher risk of miscarriage, and there was also a higher incidence of Downs Syndrome, physical deformities, and other defects in surviving children.

If diplomacy fails and our soldiers have to be sent out to war zones, it's time to make sure they are fully equipped when they are there - and properlycared for if they are fortunateenough to return.


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