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Challenger Tank Getty Images Editorial

Iraq - friendly fire

Leigh Day represented the family of Corporal Stephen Allbutt, who was killed in friendly fire incident, and two soldiers seriously injured in the attack.

On 25 March 2003, the fourth day of the Iraq War, a British Challenger II tank was mistakenly attacked by a fellow British tank. Two soldiers were killed and another two crewmen were seriously injured in the so-called friendly fire.

Leigh Day represented the family of Corporal Stephen Allbutt, who was killed in the incident, and Daniel Twiddy and Andrew Julien, two soldiers seriously injured in the attack.

The claim against the UK Ministry of Defence was that it had been negligent because it failed to adequately train and equip them and/or their tanks with technology that could have prevented the injuries and death.

The Ministry of Defence argued that it did not owe a duty of care because the deaths and injuries occurred in battle and are therefore covered by the doctrine of combat immunity. It also argued that the claim raised issues about military resources and procurement, which are political rather than judicial.

These arguments were defeated in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. The case established an important legal principle regarding the State’s duty of care to soldiers.

The Challenger claims are about alleged failures in training, including pre-deployment and in-theatre training, and the provision of technology and equipment... At the stage when men are being trained... or decisions are being made about the fitting of equipment to tanks or other fighting vehicles, there is time to think things through, to plan and to exercise judgment. These activities are sufficiently far removed from the pressures and risks of active operations against the enemy for it to not be unreasonable to expect a duty of care to be exercised."

The leading judgment of the Supreme Court, delivered by Lord Hope

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