A FORMER soldier who was badly injured in a friendly fire incident has launched a crucial test case for compensation from the Government.
L/Cpl Dan Twiddy, 31, of Drift Road, Stamford, is seeking compensation from the Government in the High Court after he suffered facial injuries when his Challenger II tank was mistakenly fired at and hit by another British tank in March 2003.
He was medically discharged in 2005 following the incident which happened on the fourth day of the assault on Basra. He now runs his own plastering business in the Stamford area.
Cpl Stephen Albutt, from Stoke, was killed the incident and Pte Andy Julien was severely wounded.
Lawyers for Mr Twiddy, Mr Julien and Cpl Albutt’s widow Deborah claim that the Ministry of Defence failed them by not having in place the right specialist battlefield identification gear, which would have prevented the British tank commander firing on his own side.
Government lawyers are urging judge Mr Justice Owen to “strike out” the claims because of the established legal principle that combat incidents should be “immune” to litigation.
There are also three other compensation cases on three separate incidents in which soldiers were fatally wounded in Iraq when their “snatch” Land Rovers detonated roadside bombs.
If the test case is successful the claimants will win the right to sue and many more cases would be likely to follow.
On Wednesday Mr Justice Owen delayed his decision on the tank case.
The court had heard on Monday that the Challenger tank containing Mr Twiddy and his colleagues from the Queen’s Lancers was hit by shellfire from another British tank.
The MOD’s barrister, James Eadie QC, said there was evidence that the other tank commander had become “disorientated” in the confusion of battle.
But the MOD faces allegations that there was a “negligent failure at common law to ensure that the tanks were deployed with adequate safety equipment”, said the QC.
The negligence claims focus on an alleged failure to ensure that effective “target identification devices” were in place despite specialist equipment being “available to other forces”.
Defending the MOD’s position, he pointed out that the Army was involved in “very complex” decisions about the introduction of costly and sophisticated military equipment.
At the time of the friendly fire deaths the MOD had a procurement project running “exploring the possibility of developing a battlefield identification system”, he said, but it was still at the “research and development stage”.
He said it was “not fair, just and reasonable” to impose a legal duty of care on the MOD which had to deal with intricate decisions about battlefield tactics and defence procurement.
“This isn’t a suitable area for the courts to trespass into,” he urged the judge, arguing that the six cases should be barred from proceeding to trial.
However, Richard Hermer, the QC representing the families in the friendly fire case, argued: “Those who risk their lives in combat can properly expect to be equipped and trained to a reasonable standard - and a failure to do so gives rise to a remedy in law.”
He added: “Something should have been done to enable the tank to be identified to its own forces.”
The Challenger had in fact been kitted out with “three types of very rudimentary identification equipment” he said, which were ineffective in the circumstances.
After three days in court, Mr Justice Owen recognised the importance of the case when he reserved his decision until an unspecified later date.
Mr Twiddy had joined Queens Royal Lancers aged 18 and wanted to make the army his life before the friendly fire incident.
Mr Julien suffered massive leg injuries in the attack, along with brain injuries that blinded him.