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[casi] Coroner: Ban cluster bombs

Coroner calls on MoD to stop using cluster bombs
By Stewart Payne
(Filed: 16/08/2003)

A coroner is demanding a review of the use of cluster bombs after hearing
how a British expert died trying to make safe unexploded devices dropped by
American forces and gathered up by Iraqi peasant farmers.

A unexploded 'bomblet' from a cluster bomb lies in a field in northern Iraq
After hearing how villagers implored Staff Sgt Chris Muir, 33, to help them
to clear their fields of explosives so they could harvest crops, Nicholas
Gardiner, the Oxford coroner, said it was "unacceptable" that 30 per cent of
the "bomblets" contained in each cluster bomb failed to detonate.

The bomb disposal expert was approached by a group of farmers, as he was en
route to make safe a bombed Iraqi tank in southern Iraq during the second
week of the war. They urged him to follow them to their fields where he saw
more than 400 cluster bombs on the ground.

Many of the M42 cluster bombs, dropped in a recent Amercian air raid, had
failed to explode, having hit soft ground, and the farmers were attempting
to harvest their tomatoes by stepping around them.

Some had gathered up the devices and started to pile them up in a well. Sgt
Muir, assisted by a corporal, decided to help the villagers by detonating
the bombs. Each cluster bomb contained 60 bomblets and many had failed to

Sgt Muir, a married man from Southam, Warks, had made safe 100 devices when
one exploded in his hands, killing him instantly. The coroner recorded a
verdict of death by misadventure.

He said: "It is unacceptable that 30 per cent of these bomblets fail to
detonate, falling in areas where the local population are not likely to
understand the dangers.

"I propose to use my powers to report to the Ministry of Defence and urge
them to investigate devices which do not fail 30 per cent of the time, or to
use different devices altogether."

Cpl Glen Roberts told the Oxford inquest that Sgt Muir was leading a small
team when they were stopped by the farmers. "We communicated by sign
language and they were clearly trying to tell us something," he said.

"Suddenly we saw hundreds of bomblets and they all looked recent. I called
HQ for an interpreter. We understood the situation and needed to convey that
the villagers had to evacuate the farm." He said Sgt Muir showed him how to
defuse the bomblets. They divided up the task between them.

"I took one side, and Sgt Muir went towards a large well," he said. "Two
hundred bomblets had been placed there. At about midnight I heard a large
bang. I knew it wasn't good."

Dr Nicholas Hunt, a Home Office pathologist, said the injuries suggested
that Sgt Muir had been kneeling over a bomblet when he died. The inquest was
told that the Army had launched an independent inquiry into the death, which
discovered that up to 30 per cent of M42s fail to detonate upon impact.

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