Relatives of soldiers killed fighting in Iraq can claim for damages for negligence against the Government, senior judges have said.
Lawyers representing troops’ families hailed the Court of Appeal ruling in London as a “landmark decision”.
Appeal judges said relatives could not make damages claims under human rights legislation, but lawyers said that that fight would go on. They said families would take the human rights battle to the Supreme Court.
The mother of one soldier wept outside court as she described the Ministry of Defence’s attitude as “despicable”.
Sue Smith, 51, of Tamworth, Staffordshire, whose 21-year-old son Private Phillip Hewett was killed seven years ago, said: “It is just so dismissive. It ‘doesn’t matter’. They are Action Men. If you break them, just bury them.
“But they are not just Action Men. People need to make a stand.”
Relatives had argued that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation.
The MoD argued that decisions about battlefield equipment were for politicians and military commanders.
Legal action was started as a result of the deaths of a number of British soldiers following the invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Corporal Stephen Allbutt, 35, of Sneyd Green, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, was killed in a “friendly fire” incident in March 2003, judges were told. He died after a Challenger 2 tank was hit by another Challenger 2 tank.
Soldiers Dan Twiddy, of Stamford, Lincolnshire, and Andy Julien, of Bolton, Greater Manchester, were badly hurt.
Private Hewett, 21, of Tamworth, died in July 2005 after a Snatch Land Rover was blown up.
Similar explosions claimed the lives of Private Lee Ellis, 23, of Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester, in February 2006, and Lance Corporal Kirk Redpath, 22, of Romford, Essex, in August 2007.
Three appeal judges, Lord Neuberger, who was then the Master of the Rolls, Lord Justice Moses and Lord Justice Rimer heard evidence at a hearing in London in June and announced their decision yesterday.
The Court of Appeal analysed claims following challenges to rulings made by High Court judge Mr Justice Owen in June 2011.
Solicitor Shubhaa Srinivasan, a partner with law firm Leigh Day & Co, which is representing some claimants, said the appeal court ruling was “a landmark decision”.
He said: “We maintain that the MoD’s position has been morally and legally indefensible, as they owe a duty of care to those who fight on behalf of this country.
“British troops should at the very least have adequate equipment and training, ranging from the very basic such as GPS devices, to sophisticated satellite tracker systems, which the Americans had available to them.”
He added: “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.
Solicitor Jocelyn Cockburn, of law firm Hodge Jones & Allen, also represented some relatives.
She said they would now ask the Supreme Court - the highest court in the UK - to decide whether damages claims could also be made under human rights legislation.
“The battle will go forward on human rights,” she said, after the appeal court ruling.
“I think it is very important to establish a principle that soldiers going into battle have human rights...
“All the MoD must do is to take reasonable steps to protect the rights of its soldiers. It’s a battle that needs to be fought.”