The Ministry of Defence has said it is "deeply sorry" after it was reported that body parts and tissue samples from 30 soldiers killed in Afghanistan were kept without their families' permission. The body parts were discovered at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, while tissue samples were found at Bulford Garrison in Salisbury.
About six body parts were being kept at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, which provides a mortuary facility for MoD forensic pathologists to carry out post mortem examinations. The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust said in a statement:
"These forensic post-mortems are undertaken under the jurisdiction of the Coroner and tissue samples, required as part of the investigation, are retained under codes of practice defined in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. The Trust is obliged to store tissue samples on behalf of the Coroner, until an investigation is complete and the Trust has received written instructions, from the Coroner that the samples are no longer required for the investigation and on what the relatives wish to do with the tissue samples. **
The Trust’s pathology service handles all tissue samples in strict accordance with HTA (Human Tissue Authority) statutory guidance. In this particular case the tissue samples were neither lost nor discovered. The samples were being stored, in an entirely secure and respectful manner, until no longer required by the Coroner and until the Trust had received written notification that the investigations were complete. The MOD is responsible for liaising with the families of deceased soldiers." **
More than 50 tissue samples - which were kept on laboratory slides for matching or identifying dead soldiers - were reportedly retained at Bulford Garrison in Salisbury. The remains were discovered last month when a new manager was appointed at the Military Police's Special Investigations Branch (SIB). Officials are now working to identify and inform the families affected, saying the samples related to 30 service personnel dating back to 2002.
An army spokesman has said "There are occasions when it is necessary for the RMP Special Investigations Branch to retain slides of forensic material from individuals killed on operations as part of their investigation - this is standard practice. However, the RMP identified there were a small number of cases where this had been done without the correct processes being followed to inform families."
The Royal British Legion, which represents many forces families, has reacted with concern, saying:
"The Royal British Legion is deeply concerned that the wishes of bereaved families were ignored in these cases and urges the MoD to take corrective action urgently and to ensure that this never happens again.
Human remains must be treated with utmost respect and accountability, not only to protect the dignity and feelings of service families, but also to preserve the integrity of the inquest process.
We will be following this matter with interest. As always, we are standing by to help bereaved service families and our Independent Inquest Advice team is always prepared to provide them with free independent advice at coroner’s inquest."