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Victory for Iraq soldiers' families

Relatives of soldiers killed fighting in Iraq can claim for damages for negligence against the Government, senior judges said.

Lawyers representing troops' families hailed the Court of Appeal ruling in London as a "landmark decision".

Appeal judges said relatives could not make damages claims under human rights legislation, but lawyers said that fight would go on. They said families would take the human rights battle to the Supreme Court.

The mother of one soldier wept outside court as she described the Ministry of Defence's attitude as "despicable".

Sue Smith, 51, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, whose 21-year-old son Private Phillip Hewett was killed seven years ago, said: "It is just so dismissive. It 'doesn't matter'. They are Action Men. If you break them, just bury them.

"But they are not just Action Men. People need to make a stand."

Relatives had argued that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation.

The MoD argued that decisions about battlefield equipment were for politicians and military commanders.

Legal action was started as a result of the deaths of a number of British soldiers following the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, of Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was killed in a "friendly fire" incident in March 2003, judges were told.

He died after a Challenger 2 tank was hit by another Challenger 2 tank.

Soldiers Dan Twiddy, of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and Andy Julien, of Bolton, Greater Manchester, were badly hurt in the incident.

Private Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover was blown up.

Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, in February 2006, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, in August 2007.

Three appeal judges, Lord Neuberger, who was then the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Rimer heard evidence at a hearing in London in June - and announced their decision today.

The Court of Appeal analysed claims following challenges to rulings made by High Court judge Mr Justice Owen in June 2011.

Solicitor Shubhaa Srinivasan, a partner with law firm Leigh Day & Co, which is representing some claimants, said the appeal court ruling was a "a landmark decision".

He said: "We maintain that the MoD's position has been morally and legally indefensible, as they owe a duty of care to those who fight on behalf of this country.

"British troops should at the very least have adequate equipment and training, ranging from the very basic such as GPS devices, to sophisticated satellite tracker systems, which the Americans had available to them.

"It seems incredible that it was often left up to soldiers themselves to buy this equipment as they felt compelled to, so as to better protect their own lives and the lives of those they were responsible for."

He added: "The Appellate Court has categorically rejected the MoD's argument that the MoD can release itself from owing a duty of care to soldiers who suffered deaths and injuries in the battlefield due to alleged inadequate or poor equipment.

"It is a morally and legally indefensible position to take and we say rightly received short shrift from the Appellate Court.

"As a prudent employer, the MoD can have no excuses now and must get on with the business of ensuring that troops are properly equipped. If not, it can be vulnerable to negligence claims.

"The court ruling also makes it clear the MoD can no longer hide behind arguments relating to complexities in procuring equipment and allocation of scarce resources to evade a duty of care to adequately equip its servicemen and women who are being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country."

Mr Srinivasan went on: "Soldiers paid a heavy price for their sacrifice and we strongly feel we should be able to ask a British court to consider whether the MoD breached its duty of care to them."

Debi Allbutt, widow of Cpl Allbutt, said she had fought a near decade-long battle to get the chance to sue the MoD for negligence.

She burst into tears as she watched the news break on a big screen at Swan Bank Methodist Mission in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.

Solicitor Jocelyn Cockburn, of law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, also represented some relatives.

She said they would now ask the Supreme Court - the highest court in the UK - to decide whether damages claims could also be made under human rights legislation.

"The battle will go forward on human rights," she said, after today's appeal court ruling.

"I think it is very important to establish a principle that soldiers going into battle have human rights...

"All the MoD must do is to take reasonable steps to protect the rights of its soldiers.

"It's a battle that needs to be fought."

Pte Ellis's sister, Karla, 31, from Wythenshawe, said: "Our best men should be looked after to the highest standard if they are going out to save the rest of the world.

"To me it never made sense. It was bizarre.

"My brother was owed a duty of care.

"There is no doubt he would have survived the attack if he had not been in that vehicle.

"Hopefully today's decision will mean we can try to get some closure. I'm really pleased."

Pte Ellis's daughter, Courtney, 11, had been affected "very badly", Ms Ellis added.

"She is only young still but as she is getting older she has got more questions.

"She says to me 'so my dad could have survived with better equipment... I'm not happy about that'.

"I say 'Don't worry, leave it to Auntie Karla'."

Pte Ellis was killed as he routinely patrolled a playground in a Snatch Land Rover.

The keen Manchester City supporter had given up an apprenticeship as a footballer at Wigan Athletic to join The Parachute Regiment

An MoD spokesman said later: "Our thoughts and concerns remain with those that were injured and the families of those that sadly lost their lives.

"We are considering the judgment by the Court of Appeal and as this is likely to be subject to further legal action it would be inappropriate for us to comment further."

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