Jason Smith's officer fights back tears as inquest told of heatstroke death

Mother of reservist serving in Iraq who died in 50C heat says she hopes new inquest will establish if lessons have been learned

An army officer fought back tears as he described how a reservist soldier died of heatstroke while under his command in Iraq at a new inquest into his death 10 years ago.

Private Jason Smith, 32, a member of the Territorial Army (TA), had repeatedly told medical staff he was feeling unwell as temperatures soared to more than 50C.

But in August 2003 he was found lying face down in an old athletics stadium where he was stationed. He was taken to hospital but suffered a cardiac arrest and could not be saved.

His commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Cattermull, told the hearing in Oxford on Monday that the soldiers were too busy and did not have enough resources.

The fresh inquest was ordered after the Ministry of Defence failed to disclose important documents before the first hearing.

Speaking ahead of the new inquest, Smith’s mother, Catherine, said she hoped the hearing would establish whether lessons had since been learned. The hearing is being watched carefully by representatives of the three TA soldiers who died in the summer while taking part in an SAS test in the Brecon Beacons as temperatures reached 30C.

On the first day of the inquest, Cattermull said the environment his troops were fighting in was “the hardest I have experience in my military career”.

Cattermull broke down as he said: “It was extremely hot, we were extremely busy, too busy, and we didn’t have enough resources – be that manpower, be that equipment – to do what we were asked to do.

“We had asked for more manpower but we had a mission to do and we were going to do it the best we knew with the resources available. My best resource available, as ever, were my soldiers, who never let me down.”

Cattermull said Smith’s death came in the context of the “relentless tempo of operations, stretched manpower and extreme heat”.

The inquest heard that one officer had referred to the stadium in southern Iraq as “an unbearable, hot, dusty hellhole”.

Cattermull explained that the men were forced to drink water mixed with sugar and salt in front of officers to halt dehydration after numerous heat injuries. Equipment to air-condition the stadium arrived two days after Smith had died, the inquest heard.

The officer said that “in retrospect” the fact that one medic was taking care of 100 men was “insufficient”, but claimed this had only become apparent after other operations in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

He added: “It was hard, very hard indeed. Things were not right – no operation is going to be fully resourced or fully equipped, but we were as good as we were going to be with what we had.”

At the original 2006 inquest, Andrew Walker, the assistant deputy coroner for Oxfordshire, recorded that Smith’s death was caused “by a serious failure to recognise and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that …read more  

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