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Iraq Transition

Friendly fire death ruled unlawful

Story Highlights

• British Coroner says friendly fire death of British soldier was "unlawful"
• Hull's widow says her family feels badly let down by U.S. government
• Hull killed when convoy was strafed by a U.S. warplane
• U.S. Defense Department expresses "deepest sympathies" for a "tragic accident"
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- A British coroner on Friday ruled that a U.S. "friendly fire" attack that killed a British soldier in Iraq was unlawful and criminal.

Oxfordshire Assistant Deputy Coroner Andrew Walker said the death of Lance Cpl. Matty Hull in an attack on his armored vehicle convoy in southern Iraq in March 2003, was entirely avoidable.

Walker also criticized U.S. officials for failing to provide all of the information and evidence he has asked for. He said that not all of the facts had come to light in the case, and many pages of evidence had been blacked out.

The coroner's verdict is not binding on the United States, which is not subject to British law, and will not lead to the prosecution of the American pilots.

Hull's widow Susan welcomed the decision.

"All my family feel it is the right verdict, it is what we have waited four years to hear," she told a press conference.

The coroner said there were many errors that resulted in the incident which left four other British soldiers wounded.

"Things were not checked, the coordinates were not checked, identification of the British armored convoy was not checked, and if this had been checked in such a way as the rules of engagement state that they should be, then this could have been entirely avoidable," he said.

On Thursday, Hull's widow appealed to U.S. President George W. Bush to release the full text of a military report on the incident. (Full story)

She said 11 lines of the U.S. military's Friendly Fire Investigation Board report into the incident had been blacked out in a copy supplied to the inquest.

The Hull family says the deleted lines relate to an interview with the ground controller -- code-named Manila Hotel -- in charge of the two A-10 planes that attacked Hull's convoy.

The coroner and the British government have repeatedly criticized the U.S. military for failing to cooperate with the inquest. U.S. officials declined to send the pilots involved to give evidence and refused to release a cockpit recording of the attack.

In the tape, which was leaked to the press, the pilots' coordinators gave assurances there were no coalition forces in the area at the time. The pilots opened fire, but the error soon became obvious, and the pilots were informed that friendly units were in the area.

When they realize they have hit a convoy of British armored vehicles, the pilots say: "God damn it" and "We're in jail, dude."

Walker has called the lack of U.S. cooperation in the inquest "appalling."

Britain's Ministry of Defence apologized for poor handling of the case.

"We are very sorry for confusion and upset caused over the handling of the cockpit footage," it said in a statement.

"Susan Hull said today that she hopes that lessons will be learned as a result of this inquest - we will do all that we can to ensure that this is the case."

Hull's widow said her family had been "badly let down" by the U.S. government, but added that she would not be pursuing the matter any further.

"We're drawing a line, we need to move on. For all of us, it's been a long painful time."

Hull said she hoped her husband's death would lead to better training for pilots and checks with the systems involved. She said the pilots involved should not face further action.

"I hope that they are at peace with themselves and they can move on in their lives. I'm sure they are feeling remorse for what they did."

A U.S. Defense Department spokesman -- who said the United States expressed its "deepest sympathies" to the Hulls -- called the U.S. probe into the matter "thorough" and said it was "conducted according to the same processes and same standards as would be used in the investigation of a friendly fire incident involving the death of an American military member."

He said the U.S. shared "all information developed during the investigation" with British military authorities.

The spokesman said that the probe showed the incident "took place in a complex combat environment, the pilots followed applicable procedures and processes for engaging targets, believing they were engaging enemy targets, and that this was a tragic accident."

Matty Hull was killed when his convoy was strafed by a U.S. warplane in southern Iraq.


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