Updated: A film showing the naked body of a British airman was offered for sale on eBay, it emerged yesterday. The distasteful footage has since been removed from the online listings, and the police alerted.
The revelations came during a preliminary hearing regarding the crash of RAF Hercules transport plane near Baghdad in 2005. The dead man in this case was Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, the aircraft's navigator. Nine other servicemen also died.
A lawyer representing Ms Kellie Merritt, Flt Lt Pardoel's widow, said the Hercules wreckage remained unsecured for 60 hours despite being close to major US bases. According to the lawyer, Mr Bernard Collaery, this allowed insurgents to pick over the area and take propaganda film of Flt Lt Pardoel's corpse.
"There must be someone who can explain to my client why the crash site was not secured," he said.
But, in fact, it seems the site was secured reasonably quickly. Minstry of Defence reps said yesterday that "Coalition forces were at the scene of the crash within 30 minutes."
The MoD's own official report into the causes of the crash (full pdf available here) states that US Apache attack helicopters were above the wreckage 45 minutes after the final distress call was received from the doomed Hercules. This was 20 minutes from the time when ground controllers realised that the plane had crashed, rather than making a controlled landing as had at first been thought. There were Coalition boots on the ground five minutes after the Apaches' appearance.
By the time the MoD's specialist crash investigators reached the main crash site containing "all human remains" it had been secured by a force of 150 US Marines with substantial helicopter support. The area had already been thoroughly checked out by Search and Rescue teams, US crash investigators and RAF technical personnel. Though the MoD report does not say so specifically, it is clear that Coalition special forces were also present in significant numbers.
It is always possible that local villagers videoed Flt Lt Pardoel's body prior to the Apaches' appearance – the American pilots reported that 10 to 15 "locals" departed from the site as they arrived – but it seems much likelier that any video footage would have been taken by Coalition service personnel. The ghoulish eBay seller has reportedly been traced by police to an address in Scotland, which would support that theory.
It would appear that Ms Merritt's lawyer was unaware of the crash report's existence, though it has been widely analysed in the public domain.
eBay UK said they were not aware of any complaint.
Bernard Collaery told us by email: "The matter was investigated by the Australian Federal Police at Canberra on referral by the Chief of Defence Force Air Marshal Angus Houston. Our files covering this aspect are in Australia however the E-Bay listing was confirmed and recorded by several parties."®