HC Deb 11 April 1983 vol 40 cc305-7W
Mr. Heddle

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether inquiries into the death and injury of Argentine prisoners of war while in British custody on the Falkland Islands have been completed; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Heseltine

Inquiries into the death and injury of Argentine prisoners of war at Goose Green on 1 June 1982 and into the injury of one prisoner of war at Pebbly Pond have been completed.

Following the action at Darwin and Goose Green large quantities of Argentine arms and ammunition were found scattered in and around the settlement. This posed an extremely serious threat to the civilian population who could not return home until the houses had been checked and cleared. The British forces had to give high priority to the task of making the ammunition safe and clearing it to a central collection point at the airfield, and in additon they had to guard the large number of Argentine prisoners of war hwo were accommodated in a large sheep-shearing shed.

On the afternoon of 1 June 1982, a prisoner of war work detail under the supervision of an Argentine officer and guarded by three British solders was engaged on the task of moving ammunition from near the sheep-shearing shed when there was a loud explosion. A very fierce fire began and although rescuers managed to pull the injured clear one prisoner of war was seen to stagger back into the flames. Attempts to reach failed and a sergeant of the British forces, who had, over a period of some minutes, been repeatedly driven back by the heat and flames and who thought the prisoner was beyond assistance but still alive and in agony, obtained a rifle and fired three or four shots at the man.

Three prisoners of war died in the incident and a fourth died later at Ajax Bay. A further eight members of the detail were injured and received immediate first aid from the doctor and other medical staff present.

Shortly after the incident an Argentine officer complained that a British soldier had shot a prisoner of war. Eye-witnesses, including the sergeant, were interviewed and the facts explained to Argentine officers who accepted them and did not pursue the matter further.

As soon as practicable after hostilities had ceased an inquiry was convened which was unable to interview all the witnesses since the Argentinian prisoners of war had been repatriated. Further investigations were therefore made as units and individuals returned from the Falklands. The resulting full reports have been carefully considered, and it has been concluded that the work undertaken by the detail could be classed as dangerous for the purposes of article 52 of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949 but that the prisoners of war undertook the task without coercion. The explosion was probably caused by a mine initiated by a faulty or mishandled grenade: phosphorus from charge bags probably coused the ferocity of the fire.

The full results of all these inquiries have been studied by the competent legal authorities, who have concluded that no proceedings (whether in a civil court or by court martial or through military disciplinary proceedings) should be instituted against any individual involved. The problems created by the inadequate recording and marking of the extensive Argentine minefields are well known.

On 2 july 1982 a group of volunteer Argentine army engineers were assisting in locating and marking the limits of minefields on Stanley common. An Argentine officer, followed by Cabo Primero Cattay, moved across an area near Pebbly pond to mark off the end of the minefield when there was an explosion and Cabo Primero Cattay fell with a foot injury. He was treated immediately and evacuated to hospital by helicopter, where he had his left leg amputated below the knee.

An inquiry was convened and confirmed that Cabo Primero Cattay was a volunteer in the task of marking off minefields, that he was not engaged on the locating and lifting of individual mines, that the briefing, safety precautions and supervision provided by British and Argentine officers were adequate and that first aid and emergency arrangements ensured rapid medical attention and hospitalisation. It was thought that the mine was probably outside the known limites of the minefields and that Cabo Primero Cattay stepped on it accidentally when he followed the officer round what was believed to be the limits of the minefields. These reports have been considered by the competent authorities, who have concluded that no blame should be attached to any of the British or Argentine personnel involved.

A report, covering both incidents, has been prepared in accordance with article 121 of the Third Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war. This report has been communicated to Brazil, as the protecting power, and a copy has also been passed to the International Committee of the Red Cross. The report includes statements from Argentine prisoners of war, although, in the case of the incident at Goose Green, the operational situation and rapid repatriation of the prisoners of war prevented the taking of statements from Argentine prisoners of war, with one exception.

I have placed a copy of the report in the Library.

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