MoD says sorry for keeping body parts of dead soldiers
Defence officials were last night contacting around 30 families of Armed Forces heroes killed in action, after it emerged that remains had been kept without permission.
The Wiltshire base of the Military Police’s Special Investigations Branch (SIB) was at the centre of the latest in a series of scandals involving retention of body parts.
The practice was first exposed by the Western Daily Press during the Bristol Heart Babies Scandal in the 1990s.
Yesterday both the Ministry of Defence and the Human Tissue Authority apologised to the relatives of soldiers who died fighting for their country in Afghanistan.
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An MoD spokesman said: “The Ministry of Defence deeply regrets that this failure of procedure has occurred and apologises profoundly to all the families who are affected by this.”
The MoD said there are times when the Royal Military Police had to retain forensic material from troops killed in action as part of their investigation, and this was standard practice.
But there were a small number of cases where this was done without following the correct procedures to inform the families.
There are understood to be around 60 forensic items involved, containing material from some 30 people.
The majority are microscopic laboratory slides containing tissue samples for matching or identifying the dead soldiers, and these were found at the SIB headquarters at Bulford Garrison.
A small number of body parts were discovered at John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford.
The MoD said the problem resulted from a change in the way the SIB liaised with families, which meant consent had not been given.
“Investigations are being carried out urgently into this matter. The RMP Special Investigations Branch has taken swift action to ensure this cannot happen again and are identifying families affected as quickly as possible.”
Some families had already been told about the blunder yesterday, and it emerged that one of the samples dated back to 2002.
The Western Daily Press first revealed how, during the Heart Babies scandal, organs were retained, causing huge distress to parents.
The newspaper then exposed a nationwide scandal of hospitals keeping more than 100,000 body parts without informing relatives, including the hospital at Alder Hey in Liverpool.
The stories led to a change in the law, with the Human Tissue Act 2006 requiring consent from relatives.
The MoD has set up telephone hotlines for next of kin affected. Mobile: 07771 704901 or +44 7771 704901 from outside UK and landline: 01980 673707 or +44 1980 673707 from outside UK