Body parts of British soldiers retained without families' consent


BRITAIN’S MINISTRY of defence is trying to identify the body parts and remains of 30 soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2002 which were kept by the military without the knowledge and permission of their families.

An investigation began after British military police discovered they had retained six body parts and 50 samples of tissue following incidents during the recent conflicts. Maj Gen James Everard, assistant chief of the general staff at the British army, said they were “deeply sorry” about the incident.

Such material is usually gathered by the military police to identify soldiers and for use in potential prosecutions.

However, they discovered in July that a failure in their usual processes meant that in a few cases the families of the dead had not been told remains had been kept, or asked if they approved. In some cases, this had been made more complicated because scientists were not able to say with certainty who the remains belonged to.

But in situations where there is doubt, the relatives of all those who died in an incident are normally told, and this did not happen either, the defence ministry said.

“We are doing everything we can to identify the remains and tell the families concerned,” a source said. “There is always a valid reason for retaining remains but because of a change in procedures at the Royal Military Police, there has been an oversight. We are now trying to identify and catalogue all the exhibits so the families can be told.

“This is a difficult and sensitive situation for obvious reasons. We do not know how many people have been affected because in some cases we do not know who the samples belong to.” The six body parts were thought to be found at a hospital in Oxford, while the tissue samples – which were kept on laboratory slides – were discovered at the military police’s special investigations branch (SIB) headquarters in Wiltshire in southwest England.

Everard said the samples related to 30 service personnel and dated back to 2002. He said: “We owe a huge apology to the families involved and those who will now be feeling stressful even if it doesn’t affect them.”

Asked whether there could be more samples still to be discovered, Everard said he hoped not. He added: “We’ve checked pretty thoroughly once but I’ve asked for it to be done again and that process will be completed over the next few days.

“It’s a failure of process, nothing more than that, but we absolutely recognise this will cause distress and we’re deeply sorry.” The problem is thought to have arisen when responsibility for notifying relatives in such cases switched from a dedicated family liaison officer within the SIB to the military’s visiting officers.– (Guardian service)