The families of the six British army military policemen, including Tom Keys, killed in Iraq a year and half ago are demanding action against senior officers.
The families want the officers to face charges of negligence and incompetence leading to the men’s deaths.
“Had such events taken place in a civilian organisation, it absolutely would be a clear cut case of corporate manslaughter,” said the families at a press conference last week.
They were responding to an army board of inquiry into the deaths of Simon Hamilton-Jewell, Russell Aston, Simon Miller, Paul Long, Tom Keys and Ben Hyde in the town of Majar al-Kabir. The families rejected the inquiry’s conclusion that the deaths “could not have been reasonably prevented”, describing it as a cover-up.
“It is a case of the army investigating the army,” said Reg Keys. The families have secured a commitment from the government that a coroner’s inquest will be held into the deaths.
“All we have been asking for is an independent inquiry,” said Adele Cox, sister of Russell Aston. “But we have been misled before. I was told that Russ’s clothing had been destroyed. Then the army admitted it had been kept for forensic examination. Then they went back to saying it had been destroyed. Now they have again said that the clothing has been kept. It has been a battle all the way to get to the truth. We are not there yet.”
The authorities have refused to reopen the possibility of prosecutions against officers even if the coroner’s verdict allows for that.
The families have disclosed evidence which calls into question the decision to send the six men into Majar al-Kabir. It includes one paratrooper saying of the town, “It was so hostile the hairs stood up on the back of my neck.”
A military policeman said, “Sooner or later there would be some kind of counterattack or backlash from the population.” There was growing anger in Majar al-Kabir just weeks into the occupation over the way British army units were conducting searches.
But the six military policemen were told the town was “benign” and they were sent there lacking essential equipment, despite their protests. They did not even have handheld radios when they were attacked by the crowd.
“Most of the senior officers involved in the incident have been exonerated and sanitised by promotions,” say the families. “The board of inquiry felt that some officers should face administrative action, but this was denied by senior personnel.”
While holding a range of views over the war and occupation, the families are united in demanding senior British army officers and the authorities are held to account.
“We have gone into a country that is none of our business,” said Tony Hamilton-Jewell, father of Simon.
“They lied to us to get our sons there. The three letters that are at the heart of this are O.I.L. not W.M.D.”