Cause of soldiers death still unclear

THE mother of Colchester-based Cpl Paul Long wept as she told how she missed her "wonderful" son.Patricia Long, speaking to Tyne Tees Television from her home in South Shields, said he had left a brother, Byron and sister Maria.

THE mother of Colchester-based Cpl Paul Long wept as she told how she missed her "wonderful" son.

Patricia Long, speaking to Tyne Tees Television from her home in South Shields, said he had left a brother, Byron and sister Maria.

It was the second family tragedy within 12 months, as his father Gordon had died from cancer at the end of last year, she added.

"He was a wonderful son and I still love him very much. I miss him and just wish he was home with me now.

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"The last time I saw him was in April 2002 at his wedding. He was very happy. He was a jolly boy.

"He was everything to me. All my children are everything to me and he is going to be a big miss.'

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Earlier, the Ministry of Defence website had reported details of his family, and named his wife as Gemma.

It said his mission to Iraq was his first operational deployment with the Royal Military Police.

Cpl Long, 24, was married with a young son and was also on his first operational deployment with the Royal Military Police.

He joined the Army in April 1999 and was posted to 156 Provost Company in March 2000. A member of the Parachute Provost Platoon, he was a qualified radio operator.

Cpl Long, Cpl Russell Aston, Lance Cpl Ben Hyde, Lance Cpl Thomas Richard Keys, Cpl Simon Miller and Sgt Simon Hamilton-Jewell were gunned down in the southern town of Al Majar al-Kabir on Tuesday.

They were all members of the 156 Provost Company, Royal Military Police, based at Goojerat Barracks in Colchester, and had been due to return home next month.

The men were found dead following two incidents which resulted in eight other British casualties.

The MoD said troops from the 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment were patrolling in the town of Al Majar Al Kabir when they came under fire.

One person was injured and two vehicles were destroyed in the attack.

In responding to the incident, an RAF Chinook helicopter carrying a quick reaction force came under fire as it landed.

Seven personnel aboard the helicopter were wounded, three of them seriously.

Meanwhile, anger over heavy-handed weapons searches and the possible use of plastic bullets could have caused the mob scenes in Iraq that left six soldiers dead and eight injured, it was suggested last night.

A senior British commander said a "misunderstanding" over weapons searches had caused tensions and could have triggered the protests in Al Majar al-Kabir.

Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said he feared more confusion could have been caused by the use of plastic baton rounds.

Iraqis might not have known the difference between the plastic bullets and live ammunition, he said, adding that it would need "greater explanation'.

Local policeman Abbas Faddhel claimed British soldiers had shot dead four civilians during a protest.

One witness said British soldiers first fired rubber bullets and then live ammunition into the crowd.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said claims that plastic baton rounds were fired by British soldiers in the town were being investigated.

Mr Hoon said he had "some developing ideas" about the chain of events which had led to the killings of the six Royal Military Police soldiers.

But he refused to go into detail while inquiries were continuing.

Tensions had been growing over allegedly heavy-handed search tactics used by Paras who have been patrolling the town.

Iraqis claimed soldiers had searched with dogs, which are not allowed in Muslim homes, threatened townspeople and mocked women's underwear found during the searches.

The Army appeared to have agreed to suspend the searches after an angry meeting with local Iraqi leaders on Monday, but then protests on Tuesday spiralled out of control as Army patrols were spotted.

Reports said two of the RMP officers were killed in a protest in the town when the crowd turned against them, and that the other four were trapped and killed in a police station by the mob.

A Para patrol then also came under attack, injuring one person and destroying two vehicles.

Major General Peter Wall said: "The crowd violence appears to have stemmed from a misunderstanding. The townspeople expected searches for weapons to be conducted by our patrols.

"That was not our intent and this had been explained to the town council at a formal meeting earlier in the week, when the strength of their resentment to weapons searches had become clear."

Maj Gen Wall said investigators were still piecing together the chain of events but said local Iraqi leaders were cooperating.

"I can assure you that we will do our utmost to ensure that those responsible are held to account," he said.

nAn urgent review of troop numbers and tactics in Iraq was launched after Tuesday's killings and Mr Hoon raised the possibility of sending thousands more troops to the country.

Mr Hoon, Prime Minister Tony Blair and US National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice have all paid tribute to the dead men.

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