Wednesday 7 November 2007

Led by the nose

Some 238 articles recorded by Google News about today's Coroner's Inquest verdict on Fusilier Gordon Gentle tell you one thing – that the media have lost the plot.

The point is that, barring a few textual changes and more or less detail, all the accounts are basically the same, recording the unlawful killing of Fusilier Gentle, who died in Basra on 28 June 2004 while riding in a "Snatch" Land Rover.

A contributory factor was, according to the assistant coroner Selena Lynch, the failure of the Army to fit electronic counter-measures (ECM) to the vehicle. "It is probable that the device would not have been detonated if the escort had been equipped with an ECM," she is cited as saying.

In the absence of any further detail as to how Lynch reached her conclusion – the media not even attempting to go down that path – we cannot determine how she can be so definitive, offering a "probable" rather than "possible". There is no information on the method of initiation of the bomb – had it been a command-wire detonation, no amount of ECM would have helped.

But, whether or not detonation could have been prevented, there is one thing that still could have saved Fusilier Gentle: a more adequately armoured vehicle rather than the highly vulnerable "Snatch" Land Rover. Courtesy of the BBC, we see pictures of the stricken Land Rover (top left and right) and, blurred though the images are, it is evidently far less damaged than some of the protected vehicles, in which crews have survived.

The one thing that was not discussed during the inquest, however, was the vulnerability of the "Snatch" Land Rover, and it is here that the media, in writing their stories, display very short memories. There has been one previous inquest in which a "Snatch" Land Rover was involved, investigating the deaths of Pte Phillip Hewett, 2nd Lt Richard Shearer and Pte Leon Spicer.

This was at the end of January this year when the coroner ruled that she could make no recommendation to the Ministry of Defence about the use of the Land Rovers because it is beyond her jurisdiction. And, as with this inquest, the coroner was Selena Lynch.

Through that inquest, we saw a determination of the Army witnesses to play down the role of the Land Rover, that time arguing that because the bomb was an explosively formed projectile, nothing could have protected the soldiers. This time, however, we see a focus on the ECM, and again the vulnerability of the Land Rover was not discussed.

What we are seeing, therefore, is the determination of the Army and the MoD to evade being brought to account over the deployment of dangerously vulnerable vehicles. They are using diversionary tactics to draw attention away from the one thing that could definitely (not probably) have saved the life of Fusilier Gentle and many of his comrades – better armoured vehicles. In this, they are being aided by a compliant coroner who is only too willing to assist in what amounts to a cover-up.

The media, living for the day – with no thought of delving deeper and linking the two inquests – are being led by the nose. They have fallen into line and printed the headlines on offer. And 238 near-identical articles say they can't be wrong. Thus are we served.