Wife of soldier Stephen Allbutt wins fight to sue MoD for negligence
WAR widow Debi Allbutt is today leading the fight to change the course of legal history for dead and wounded service personnel.
Her 'landmark' court victory means Debi can now sue the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for negligence over husband Stephen's death in 2003.
It is her chance to prove claims that specialist equipment should have been installed on Stephen's tank to stop him being fired on and killed by 'friendly fire' in Basra.
But the 46-year-old's court victory also has far wider legal implications for the MoD. No longer can the Ministry claim it has no duty of care on battlefields.
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Today – after 3,496 long days – Debi, of Norton, has vowed to fight on for her husband, for their two sons, and for other troops.
She said: "I suppose I've fought so long and I keep thinking that maybe I won't keep winning because my luck will run out somehow.
"But it's something I really believe in so I'll just keep fighting, and fighting and fighting."
‘I told the MoD they had not heard the last of me’
WIDOW Debi Allbutt has spoken of the ‘emotional drain’ the last nine years have had on her life.
But the 46-year-old says she is now more determined than ever in her fight to see the Ministry of Defence held to account for her husband Stephen’s death.
As the ruling meaning that she can now sue the MoD was broadcast live on TV yesterday, Debi burst into tears and looked visibly shocked.
The MoD had attempted to stop her claim for negligence from progressing and first tried to get it kicked out in June 2011. When that failed, the MoD appealed the decision in June this year.
And it was that appeal which was thrown out yesterday, after Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger described the MoD’s arguments as ‘fatally flawed’.
Debi, who lives in Norton, said: “It has been almost 10 years now since I lost my husband, and Joshua and Connor lost their dad.
“Legal action has been the only route to take to find out what really happened and to get justice.
“When I set out to achieve what I’ve achieved, with the ruling, I set out a promise that I’d get justice and I’d stop this from happening again.
“Obviously this is a landmark victory so that I can go to court to hopefully set out that promise that I made in the beginning.
“It’s been a long time coming as it’s 10 years in March since Stephen died.
“It’s been emotionally draining. Fighting for something like this can really wear you down.”
As well as claiming Corporal Allbutt’s tank was not equipped with available technology, complementary therapist Mrs Allbutt also argues that her husband, as well as fellow soldiers, had not been provided with the adequate vehicle recognition training prior to military operations in Iraq.
Trooper David Clarke, aged 19, of Littleworth, Stafford, was killed alongside Cpl Allbutt and soldiers Dan Twiddy, of Lincolnshire, and Andy Julien, of Bolton, were also badly hurt.
The MoD claimed it should be released from any duty of care for failing to adequately equip them because the deaths and injuries occurred on the battlefield in a combat situation, and therefore their claims should not proceed through the courts.
It also argued decisions about battlefield equipment were for politicians and commanders, not for the courts.
But in his judgment, Lord Neuberger said: “The duty of care owed by the Ministry of Defence, as employer, to the members of the Armed Forces, as employees, does exist and has been recognised, without demur, by the courts.
“It includes a duty to provide safe systems of work and safe equipment.”
Debi said the behaviour of the MoD had been ‘terrible.’
She described how she had to fight to even receive retracted documents from the MoD and how, at her husband’s inquest, a coroner wanted to deliver a ruling of unlawful killing or manslaughter but could not because of guidelines surrounding ‘duty of care’.
She said: “We were granted a judicial review and then the MoD came in at the very last minute and gave evidence at the inquest.
“That meant that the judicial review couldn’t go ahead and they were fined quite heavily by the courts and this is why we’ve got to go by the civil route.
“I’ve always told them I wasn’t going to go away and this wasn’t the last they had heard from me.
“All of our soldiers go to war knowing the risks they undertake but what they don’t expect is not to have adequate equipment or not to receive proper training.
“As a family we are delighted that the claim can continue and we now will hopefully get answers, and prevent future deaths and injuries from happening.”
Law firm Leigh Day and Co, which is representing Debi, described the ruling as a ‘landmark’ decision.
They said for the first time, the MoD has been forced to recognise that it owes a duty of care to provide adequate equipment to all service personnel during all military operations, and that it can be sued for negligent failure to provide suitable equipment.
Solicitor Shubhaa Srinivasan, a partner with the firm, said: “The court has categorically rejected the MoD’s argument that the MoD can release itself from owing a duty of care to soldiers who suffered deaths and injuries in the battlefield due to alleged inadequate or poor equipment.
“As a prudent employer, the MoD can have no excuses now and must get on with the business of ensuring that troops are properly equipped, if not, it can be vulnerable to negligence claims.”
MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, Joan Walley, helped Debi with her campaign.
She said: “This is a landmark decision. It has been a long and lonely road which Debi has taken in her pursuit of truth and justice for what happened on that day very early on in the Iraq war.
“Debi has led a valiant and courageous battle to take this through the court in the way she has and I know how much of a toll it has taken on her and her family, but this is a really important victory. The MoD needs to urgently review whether its current procurement policy to equip our Armed Forces is fit for purpose.”
An MoD spokesman said: “We are considering the judgment.”