Sunday, November 04, 2007

US pays British troops for Iraq crash injuries

In a groundbreaking move, the Pentagon is compensating servicemen seriously hurt when an American tank convoy forced them off the road

Mark Townsend, defence correspondent
Sunday November 4, 2007
The Observer

The Pentagon has agreed to pay more than £300,000 in compensation to British soldiers who were seriously injured when their vehicle was in a collision with a US tank convoy on an Iraqi road. The landmark decision is the first time that the US military has offered money to British troops injured by US forces after admitting liability. The decision could, say lawyers, pave the way for more payouts to British servicemen accidentally injured in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Americans.

Corporal Jane McLauchlan, Staff Sergeant James Rogerson, Corporal Stephen Smith and their interpreter, Khalid Allahou, have been told they will receive collective compensation of £320,000 from the US authorities after the accident more than four years ago. Initially, the American military denied it had any record of the incident. Later it emerged that the collision had been officially recorded at the time. Lawyers for the British troops have accused the US authorities of attempting to 'dump' their inquiry in a move to block the compensation claim, the first private action involving coalition allies in Iraq.

Michael Doyle, a personal injury lawyer for Houston-based firm Doyle Raizner which took the case against the Pentagon, said the claimants were relieved their ordeal was over. 'They only ever wanted the US to admit fault. After years of denying such an incident even occurred, they have now admitted liability for what happened. As far as we can tell, this is the first and only time the US has paid out to British troops.'

The decision, a rare admission of liability from the Pentagon, increases the likelihood that more British troops injured by US forces could receive compensation. However, legal sources said that 'friendly-fire' incidents were unlikely to be affected by the ruling. Doyle said that in those cases the US authorities were protected by 'combat immunity' and that he had secured the £320,000 payout by using the US Foreign Claims Act, which provides compensation for death or injuries caused by non-combat activities of US military personnel.

The Pentagon has refused to compensate the family of ITN journalist Terry Lloyd, despite claims that US Marines 'almost certainly' fired the shots that killed him and his interpreter, Hussein Osman, near the Shatt al-Basra bridge in 2003. A number of British troops have also been accidentally killed by US fighter planes in Iraq and Afghanistan, including three men from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment in northern Helmand province, Afghanistan, last August. 'This was a unique case. This was always a case where there was a wrong, but we were never sure that we could find a right,' Doyle said.

In the incident a Royal Military Police Land Rover was struck twice from behind by a US tank transporter. Corporal McLauchlan, who was at the wheel of the Land Rover, was unable to keep control and crashed off the road. Initially, the Royal Military Police launched a detailed inquiry into the incident and named the US unit and driver involved, before the Pentagon said it would take over the investigation. Only after substantial pressure did the Pentagon admit the existence of a three-page statement by the US National Guard convoy involved in the incident, which mentioned that they 'had run some guys off the road'.

McLauchlan, 35, sustained multiple skull fractures, brain damage and punctured internal organs. She also claims she has suffered personality changes. She was assigned a non-combat role after the collision, but decided to leave the army last year.

Staff Sergeant Rogerson suffered head and spinal injuries. Allahou, who lives in Folkestone, Kent, with his British wife and had volunteered to work as a translator for the army, is said to be suffering long-term effects. Corporal Smith has made a good recovery and is now serving in Afghanistan.

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