Family's anger over 'secret inquiry'

THE father of a Royal Military policeman from Colchester who was killed with five colleagues in Iraq has hit out after it was revealed an inquiry into the men's deaths will be held behind closed doors.

THE father of a Royal Military policeman from Colchester who was killed with five colleagues in Iraq has hit out after it was revealed an inquiry into the men's deaths will be held behind closed doors.

Mike Aston's son Russell, 30, was a corporal with 156 Provost Company which is attached to the Colchester-based 16 Air Assault Brigade.

He died on June 24 last year in a mob attack at Al Major Al Kabir, 120-miles north of the British-controlled town of Basra.

An angry crowd loyal to Saddam Hussein stormed a small police station the Red Caps were manning and killed the six of them, allegedly with their own guns.


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A Board of Inquiry has been set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the deaths of the Red Caps.

But Mr Aston, of Coton in the Elms, Derbyshire, slammed the Ministry of Defence for refusing to allow the families into the hearing.

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"We are being told by the Army it would intimidate the witnesses if the family are sat there. We have asked to have a video link but I don't think we will get it," he said.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed the families would not be allowed into the inquiry but said they could submit questions via a Casualty Visiting Officer (CVO).

A report of the inquiry's findings will be made available to the families but it will be censored for sensitive information first.

Mr Aston, 61, said he just wanted to know the truth about his son's death after a number of reports about poor communication, lack of equipment and errors by the Army came to light.

The Red Caps were apparently armed with only 20 bullets each after handing their ammunition back in two weeks before they died.

Radio communication was poor in the area the men were in and Mr Aston said a satellite telephone would only have helped if no one else was on the line at the same time.

"Otherwise they would have got an answerphone. It would have been 'there are 600 Iraqis baying for your blood, but please leave a message after the tone'," he said.

After their deaths, it is claimed their bodies were washed and clothing burnt, destroying vital forensic evidence, which could have led to their killers.

Mr Aston described learning of his son's death as "the worst moment of my life" and said his wife Glenice had collapsed in grief.

"They could hear her screaming up the road," he said. "I am focused on the campaign to get to the truth of what happened.

"We have different ways of dealing with it. It is still so fresh."

Cpl Aston left a widow, Anna, and two-year-old daughter Paygan.

Mr Aston said he would see what the inquiry concluded but would take legal advice if he was not satisfied.

"Everybody makes mistakes and I want someone to say to me 'we got it wrong and we got your son killed.' Then I'd go away. But not being told the full facts leaves a nasty taste in the mouth," he said.

Colchester MP Bob Russell said: "I am disappointed that whoever conducts the inquiry has decreed that relatives can't be there for the hearing.

"I would have thought it would be part of the healing process and helpful to come to terms with the awful tragedy which has befallen them."

The other soldiers who died were Sgt Simon Hamilton-Jewell, 41, from Chessingham; Cpl Paul Long, 24, from Colchester; Cpl Simon Miller, 21, from Tyne and Wear; Lance-Cpl Benjamin McGowan Hyde, 23, from north Yorkshire and Lance-Cpl Thomas Keys, 20, from Wales.

The inquiry is due to be held in March.

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