The mother of a young private killed in Iraq explains how she used the Human Rights Act to expose serious MoD procurement failures
‘If someone behind a desk in Whitehall, far away from the front line, ordered a load of equipment that they knew or should have known would be totally inadequate to the task of protecting your son in the field, shouldn’t someone be answerable for that? I think so. And I was able to use the Human Rights Act to hold the MoD to account.’
I am Susan Smith. My son was Private Phillip Hewett.
Phillip served in the 1st Battalion the Staffordshire Regiment. In 2005, he deployed to Iraq. He was tasked with patrolling a local town on the evening of 15 July 2005 in a Snatch Land Rover. Snatch Land Rovers were lightly armoured, designed to provide only limited protection against small arms fire. They provided no protection against improvised explosive devices (‘IEDs’).
He and his colleagues Pte Leon Spicer and Lt Richard Shearer were killed when their Land Rover was blown up by an IED device. Others sustained life-changing injuries. We later learned that the common name for these vehicles was “mobile coffins” and it was widely known that they were unsuitable for the awful conditions the soldiers faced in Iraq. They had been designed for the streets of Belfast.
We took the MoD to court arguing that they had been obliged to provide our sons with reasonably safe equipment – the Snatch Land Rovers had been obviously unsuitable and should not have been used.
The MoD asked the court to throw the case out and they argued – shockingly – that they did not have an obligation under the Human Rights Act to protect our sons anyway.
The Court disagreed. It found that, because our sons had been under the complete control of the UK authorities at all times on deployment, there was an obligation to reasonably protect them. The Court was absolutely clear, however, that the simple fact of sending soldiers into battle with the risk that they might lose their lives did not itself breach the soldiers’ right to life, something that is probably worth emphasising given the way in which the case has been misrepresented over the years.
After we won on this important point of law – which will have had positive effects for lots of soldiers coming after Phillip – the MoD settled the claims out of court and offered us a formal apology. Years later, the Chilcot Report found that the MoD had left UK forces in Iraq without adequate equipment or a suitable plan, further vindicating us.
If someone behind a desk in Whitehall, far away from the front line, ordered a load of equipment that they knew or should have known would be totally inadequate to the task of protecting your son in the field, shouldn’t someone be answerable for that?
I think so. And I was able to use the Human Rights Act to hold the MoD to account.
The Govt says it wants to make it harder for claims like ours to succeed. But who, really, would benefit if they succeed? It would be the MoD – not our soldiers.
Susan Smith is the mother of Pte Phillip Hewett who died on 15 July 2005 when his Snatch Land Rover was destroyed following the detonation of an IED. She took the MoD to court along with the families of Cpl Stephen Allbutt and Pte Lee Ellis, using Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (brought into UK law through the Human Rights Act).