Friday, February 24, 2006

MOD letter reveals John Reid issued misleading figures on British casualties in Iraq

A new letter from the Ministry of Defence, written in reply to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) enquiry, has revealed that statements on British casualties in Iraq have been seriously misleading. These statements have been attributed to John Reid, the Minister for Defence.

On the 20th January the BBC reported:-

"About 230 British troops have been injured in enemy action since the invasion of Iraq, Defence Secretary John Reid has revealed."

The response just received from the MOD confirms that this was only a partial count and that the true figure may be significantly greater. The letter contains a footnote relating to the 230 figure:-

"Before Oct 2004, we only have centrally held records for the Shaibah UK Field Hospital. The figure does not include, for example, UK casualties of hostile action who were treated either by other UK Field Hospitals (early stages of operation only - for which unit records are not held centrally) or by coalition partners, or those with more minor injuries who did not receive Field Hospital treatment. "
The letter also states that the 230 figure only includes casualties treated in theatre and that:-

"Separate records show that between February 2003 and December 2005 some 4,000 military and civilian personnel (including a few Iraqis) have been medically evacuated from theatre."

In a subsequent letter on the 23rd of February they effectively confirm that the information released by Reid in January was inaccurate by stating that:-

"Premature release [of information on casualties] could result in inaccurate information being put in the public domain."

In the BBC report on the 20th Reid attempts to play down the importance of knowing the true extent of casualties:-

"The important thing, actually, is not the 40 or the 230, the important thing is that every single one of them gets to be given the care they need," Mr Reid said.

No one could argue with his second sentiment but regarding the numbers, these are undoubtedly important, and need be respected rather than spun. By his obfuscation the Minister appears to have attempted to mislead the British public on a critical issue of foreign and defence policy conduct.

Our own attempts to get at the facts by using the Freedom of Information Act have been thwarted by the MOD's use of the Public Interest Exemption. They state that the requested information is about to be published on their web site but as yet no date has been set for this disclosure.

The MOD letters (minus email) can be read here: -

17.02.06 The first reply to my enquiry

21.02.06 An explanation of the Public Interest Test they intend to employ

23.02.06 Confirmation that they will use this exemption to delay release of information

Update 27.02.06: Apologies for the previous problem with broken links - now fixed

Links to follow-up posts:

06/03/2006 - Under-reporting of British casualties in Iraq: Analysis published in The Lancet

31/03/2006 - "Britain's casualties of Iraq war total 6,700"

01/05/2006 - UK Casualties in Iraq: The debate continues in The Lancet

16/06/2006 - Ministry of Defence make partial improvements in their Iraq war casualty reporting

20/09/2006 - MOD admits failures in casualty reporting system

24/10/2006 - MoD moves to censor reporting of UK casualties