The second inquest into the death of TA soldier Private Jason Smith aged 32, who died in Iraq in 2003 has been taking place this week. The inquest was told that Smith collapsed and died of heatstroke at the abandoned athletics stadium where Smith and his unit were operating in temperatures exceeding 50C.
His commanding officer, Lt Col Stuart Cattermull (then Major), told the inquest that the conditions in Iraq were the “hardest I have experienced in my career”. It is reported that he broke down saying: “It was extremely hot. We didn’t have enough resources, be that manpower or equipment, to do what we were asked to do.” Sadly, two days after he died, air-conditioning units arrived at the base.
The Oxfordshire Assistant Coroner Alison Thompson in concluding said that: “Information and briefings to soldiers on hydration was inconsistent and the advice … given to all soldiers inadequate for the conditions in Iraq. Commanders and medics were largely unaware of the formal policy on heat illness.” She said that chances for commanders to step in were missed. “When climatic conditions deteriorated and the number of heat casualties increased, there was a missed opportunity to intervene.”
This second inquest was ordered by the Supreme Court in 2010 after Catherine Smith, Jason’s mother, successfully persuaded the court that the Human Rights Act should apply to troops serving abroad and that a full public hearing into the tragic death of her son should take place.
She has remained firm in her belief that her son, and others, were deployed into Iraq before being adequately acclimatized to operate in such demanding temperatures and conditions, saying: “It was so rushed. I think that’s where the problems came in. It was just: “Get them in and get them working.”
I understand that the Chilcot inquiry has examined the lessons which have been learned since the death of Pte Smith. For an update on when that report is to be published see https://www.iraqinquiry.org.uk/