Fight for truth over fallen Bricket Wood soldier’s Afghanistan death

The Funeral of Captain James Philippson took place on the 26th June 2006 at the St Albans Cathedral.

The Funeral of Captain James Philippson took place on the 26th June 2006 at the St Albans Cathedral. He was killed in an incident in Helmand Province, Southern Afgahnistan on the evening of Sunday 11 June 2006. Captain James Phillippson, 29, was serving with the 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, 16th Air Assault Brigade. - Credit: Headquarters Land Command

THERE are poignant, some might say almost prophetic, moments on the memorial DVD of a fallen Bricket Wood war hero where he alludes to ineffectual army equipment while fighting in Afghanistan.

Captain James Philippson, 7th Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, died fighting for this country on June 11 2006 when he was fired upon by the Taliban in a night-time ambush.

But while the battle has ended for the brave paratrooper – the first British soldier to be killed in the conflict in Afghanistan – the fight to extract the truth of what happened that fateful night continues for his father.

Tony Philippson of St Albans is still angry about the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) stance on the death of his son at the hands of insurgents in Helmand province.

A memorial DVD capturing some of his son’s last precious moments, thoughts and sights while on duty in Afghanistan include his opinions on the equipment provided by the MoD.

The paratrooper spent just a few months in Afghanistan before he was killed.

In the DVD, he said the “Yanks” found the Army’s vehicles “pretty hilarious” compared to their own heavily armoured ones.

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Capt Philippson concluded: “It’s a pity they don’t invest better in the British Army.”

His sense of humour shines through his recordings, particularly when he pans his camcorder to the four-wheel military Humvees used by the Americans, and then shows “what the British have, the classic Land Rover with a cheese cutter wire on top.

“You wonder what the hell we are doing in this desert.”

Captain Philippson described Sangin, in Helmand province, as the “desert of death”. Weeks later he was killed by Taliban forces.

His dad is suing the MoD for negligence after Andrew Walker, assistant coroner for Oxfordshire, concluded in February 2008 that British troops were totally outgunned in the battle of June 11.

Mr Walker noted that: “To send soldiers into a combat zone without basic equipment is unforgivable, inexcusable and a breach of trust between the soldiers and those who govern them.”

At the time of Capt Philippson’s death, Tony was quoted saying that his 29-year-old son had died doing what he wanted to do.

But that verdict and the findings of two boards of inquiry by the Army pushed Tony into fighting for the MoD to admit responsibility for inadequate provision of equipment. He told the Herts Advertiser: “I just want the truth. I didn’t realise something had gone wrong. I thought it was just bad luck.”

His case has been taken up by Jocelyn Cockburn, a partner at Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors.

However at present his case is stayed, pending a ruling on a case thought to be being announced as soon as May which will impact upon his court action.

Jocelyn was in the Supreme Court in February this year in relation to claims against the MoD regarding the use of poorly armoured Snatch Land Rover vehicles in the Iraq conflict.

The ruling on those cases will impact upon Tony’s lawsuit as it will decide the extent to which the MoD has a duty to properly equip soldiers deployed on active service abroad.

It will also be a test case on the issue of combat immunity in relation to Tony’s and other’s negligence claims arising out of any deaths and injuries on the battlefield.

It will decide the extent to which the MoD has a duty to take reasonable steps to protect soldiers’ lives under the Human Rights Act 1998, and whether soldiers come within the UK jurisdiction for the purpose of the Act and if so, whether it is arguable that the MoD has breached the deceased soldiers’ right to life under Article 2.

Jocelyn explained that should the Supreme Court judgement go against the cases, Tony’s lawsuit would have to be dropped.

But Tony believes that there was insufficient night vision and other “essential” equipment supplied to those patrolling that fateful evening.

On his memorial DVD, Capt Philippson described the barren land surrounding his base as being like a moonscape, with a mix of Westerners, Taliban and drug lords living in close proximity.

One evening, watching rounds being fired in the distance, he asked: “Does anyone really know what we are firing at? Not really very confident, but it’s better than watching telly.”

After Capt Philippson’s death the MoD paid tribute to the young man for his “sharp intellect and determination” whose relaxed style of command and sense of fun won him the respect and loyalty of his soldiers and peers. He joined the Army in 2001.