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Families pack English courtroom for Hercules -

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Families pack English courtroom for Hercules inquest verdict

The World Today - Thursday, 23 October , 2008 12:34:00

Reporter: Emma Alberici

ELEANOR HALL: Now to the British inquiry into the deaths of 10 servicemen in Iraq, including
Australian Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel.

The coroner has ruled that serious systemic failures in the UK's Ministry of Defence contributed to
the deaths on board a Hercules aircraft which was shot down northwest of Baghdad.

The family and friends of the 10 servicemen packed into a tiny courtroom in the west of England to
hear the verdict, as Emma Alberici reports.

EMMA ALBERICI: It was little consolation to Paul Pardoel's wife Kellie Merritt that her husband
lived to see the milestone election in Iraq on January the 30th, 2005.

Less than an hour after polls closed across the strife-torn country, the 35-year-old Australian
navigator died when the British air force Hercules transport plane he was travelling on with nine
others crashed - shot down by enemy fire

KELLIE MERRITT: It saddens me deeply that Paul and his nine peers who were an incredibly courageous
professional, skilled were let down by the body of RAF. I think what has come out is that they were
doing their job but others weren't. I find that appalling.

EMMA ALBERICI: After hearing 10 weeks of evidence, Wiltshire coroner David Masters found that the
10 soldiers on board the plane may have survived if not for serious systemic failures by the
Ministry of Defence. At the head of the list was the failure to install explosive suppressant foam
to protect the fuel tanks.

(Extract from manufacturer's video)

READER: This US Air Force demonstration ...

(End of extract)

EMMA ALBERICI: A manufacturer's video was played to the court showing the difference it could have
made. The plane fitted with the foam doesn't explode when it's hit. It's been standard in American
and Australian military aircraft since the Vietnam War but not the British RAF's Hercules.

The inquest heard that an RAF report in 2002 recommended it be fitted to protect the troops.
Another report a year later said the same thing but neither was acted on.

Then there was the intelligence failure. Insurgents had fired at US helicopters from the same area
earlier that day yet that vital intelligence which the coroner said might also have saved them
wasn't passed on to the crew.

Air Vice Marshall Stephen Hillier - a senior RAF officer - has apologised to the ten families.

STEPHEN HILLIER: The coroner was quite clear as was indeed our board of inquiry that this aircraft
was shot down as a result of enemy action and that was the principle cause of the accident.

However we have also identified a number of contributory factors and for those factors there are
failings and we have taken action and we will continue to take action to ensure that those failings
are addressed.

EMMA ALBERICI: Today 70 per cent of the British RAF Hercules have the anti-explosion foam fitted,
including all those in service in Iraq and Afghanistan but it's too late for the crew of the XV179.

Outside the court, the families of the dead servicemen said they were pleased with the verdict.

FAMILY MEMBER: We are truly disappointed that the RAF failed to protect our boys who were all
highly skilled and professional members of this crew.

FAMILY MEMBER 2: I was proud of him and each and every single one of those men were heroes but they
were let down by the whole organisation of which they believed in.

FAMILY MEMBER 3: He loved his family. He loved his friends but he was doing the job he wanted to do
and I think we ought to support these boys and girls - no matter what the politicians say - we
ought to support them.

KELLIE MERRITT: In some ways I have just been living day to day and obviously I have been so
focused on this inquest and getting it right for him and the kids and it has been quite a journey
and I now will go back and really work on being a happy unit, with being really coming to terms
with being on my own with the kids and making the most of it without him.

EMMA ALBERICI: After 10 long weeks in the UK, Kellie Merritt is looking forward to going home to
her three children in Australia.

In London this is Emma Alberici for The World Today.