Ministry of Defence sorry over body parts error
The Ministry of Defence has apologised after it emerged body parts and tissue thought to be from 30 soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan were kept without permission from their families.
The MoD said it would confirm their identities on Thursday and would write to families offering a formal apology and details of the material held.
"A small number of cases" did not follow procedure, the MoD said.
Maj Gen James Everard said two families had already been informed.
He said one of the samples dated back to 2002.
"We owe a huge apology to the families involved here and those who will now be feeling stressful even if it doesn't affect them," he said.
The MoD has put a helpline number for concerned families on its website.'Wishes ignored'
Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy said the revelation was piling "horror upon hurt" for bereaved families, and demanded an explanation.
About three small body parts and more than 50 tissue samples were retained by the Royal Military Police.
In the past police forces and hospitals have kept body parts without the knowledge of relatives.
In 1999, it was revealed that Alder Hey Children's Hospital in Liverpool retained the organs of 800 children.
They were removed during post-mortem examinations when there were doubts about the cause of death.
An inquiry later showed that more than 100,000 organs were retained at hospitals and medical schools in England.
The scandal led to the introduction of the Human Tissue Act in 2006 which requires consent from relatives.
In this case the MoD said it did routinely gain consent, but that for unknown administrative reasons in a small number on instances this was not done.
They were stored at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, while the tissue samples were stored at the Military Police's Special Investigations Branch (SIB) at Bulford Garrison in Salisbury, Wiltshire.
The issue came to light last month when a new manager was appointed at the SIB.
Maj Gen Everard said it was the Army's own internal audit process that had identified that a number of tissue samples had not been recovered following the inquests.
Mr Murphy said the public needed to know what had gone wrong and why, and how the issue had been allowed to continue over "such a prolonged period".
"This is a truly dreadful piece of news," he said.
A Royal British Legion spokesman said it was concerned "the wishes of bereaved families were ignored" and also urged the MoD to take urgent action.
"Human remains must be treated with utmost respect and accountability, not only to protect the dignity and feelings of service families, but also to preserve the integrity of the inquest process," a spokesman said.
"We will be following this matter with interest."'Disturbing'
It said it was ready to help the bereaved families.
Heather Wood, whose husband Charlie was killed in Afghanistan while serving with the two three Pioneer Regiment, based in Bicester, Oxfordshire, described the disclosure as shocking.
"When the body is repatriated there is enough opportunity to be told. A year-and-a-half later, to find out potentially that Charlie's tissue or parts of his body (could be) stored just down the road from where I live is quite disturbing really. It's quite shocking not knowing they were ever there," she told the BBC.
Case study: 'I hope it's not us'
Mandy Clarke, whose son David, 25, was killed in Afghanistan in 2010, said she was physically sick when she heard the news.
"I'm shocked and totally devastated," she told the BBC.
"I've been sobbing my heart out.
"I hope to God it isn't our family, I can't go through it all again. It would be devastating for other families though.
"I just can't believe that they didn't let families know first. They have no respect for us."
The tissue samples were kept on laboratory slides for matching or identifying the soldiers killed.
"There are occasions when it is necessary for the RMP Special Investigations Branch to retain slides of forensic material from individuals killed on operations as part of their investigation - this is standard practice," an MoD spokesman said.
"However, the RMP identified there were a small number of cases where this had been done without the correct processes being followed to inform families."
Investigations into the matter were being carried out urgently, the spokesman said.
The MoD is blaming the mistakes on a change in the way the SIB liaised with families.
Procedures were subsequently changed again as soon as the discovery came to light last month, it said.
A spokesman for the Oxford University Hospitals' NHS Trust said: "In this particular case the tissue samples were neither lost nor discovered.
"The samples were being stored, in an entirely secure and respectful manner, until no longer required by the coroner and until the Trust had received written notification that the investigations were complete.
"The MoD is responsible for liaising with the families of deceased soldiers."