Jason Smith inquest into heatstroke death highlights British army's failings

Reservist’s rapid deployment to Iraq left no time to acclimatise, says mother, as coroner hears of poor briefings and equipment

Army chiefs could have done more to ensure soldiers were protected against the effects of soaring temperatures, a coroner said on Monday, after hearing the case of a reservist who died of heatstroke in Iraq.

Jason Smith, a 32-year-old member of the Territorial Army, collapsed and died in August 2003 while he and colleagues battled to protect power and fuel installations in temperatures exceeding 50C.

Alison Thompson, the Oxfordshire assistant coroner, said information and briefings to soldiers were inconsistent and they did not have equipment that would have helped mitigate the risk, including thermometers and air-conditioning at their base and in vehicles.

The inquest was told that a “yellow card” with information about heat illness would have been adequate for a tough day on Salisbury Plain in the UK – but not for Iraq.

Smith had little time to train or acclimatise before he arrived in Iraq to take part in some of the fiercest fighting that British troops have been involved in during recent years.

One senior officer told the inquest they had neither the numbers nor the equipment to do what was being asked.

Following the hearing, Smith’s mother, Catherine, said she was glad that her 10-year fight to establish exactly what had happened to her son was over, but said she believed the inquest showed that the troops had been hurried out to Iraq before they were ready.

She said of her son’s deployment: “It was so rushed. I think that’s where the problems came in. It was just: ‘Get them in and get them working.'”

Shortcomings around the rapid deployment of troops are likely to be a dominant theme in the report of the Chilcot inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the invasion, which is expected to be published finally by the end of the year.

The inquest in Oxford heard that the troops were operating in the most challenging of conditions. As temperatures rose Smith saw a medic on four to five occasions in the two weeks before his death. He was advised to rehydrate and rest, but not referred for further treatment.

On the evening before he died, he was deployed to a power station, and next day he twice took part in patrols to guard a petrol station. This involved spending time in the intense heat of a Saxon armoured personnel carrier.

Back at base he was found collapsed in a corridor. His body was hot and dry, and he had a fit as he was taken to hospital, where he suffered a cardiac arrest. His body temperature just before he died was 41.4C.

In her formal conclusion, the coroner said: “Information and briefing 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.”

The coroner said that chances for commanders to step in were missed. “When climatic conditions deteriorated and the number …read more  

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