BBC News – 2007-04-05 22:20:58
The Royal Navy has began a wide-ranging review into the circumstances leading to the capture of 15 of its personnel by Iran.
Rules of engagement, equipment and procedures will all be analysed, the Ministry of Defence confirmed.
Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox said there were many unanswered questions about how the crew were seized.
It was also reported that the navy has stopped boarding ships in the northern Gulf pending further inquiries.
BBC Radio 4’s The World Tonight said the 15 sailors and marines were the only two crews responsible for boarding and inspecting vessels in the Shatt al-Arab waterway.
Mr Fox told the programme it seemed Iran had driven Britain out of its waters, but insisted the security activities should resume.
“This is an essential part of what we do,” he said.
The MoD said boarding operations in the Gulf were “temporarily suspended”.
But a spokesman said efforts were under way to restart them and it was possible that the 15 captured personnel might return to their previous duties.
And, he added, the UK would continue to ask Iran to return its two captured boats, but said the MoD held out little hope of success.
Meanwhile, the navy said it was carrying out a “wide-ranging lessons-learned process” to assess what had happened.
The freed personnel were expected to begin their debrief on Thursday night at Royal Marines Barracks Chivenor in Devon.
Earlier, they spoke of their happiness at being back in the UK and reunited with relatives after 13 days in custody.
While in Iran, several said they had been well treated, but since their return there have been suggestions from a relative that one of them may have been held in solitary confinement.
Lt Col Andy Price said there had been “times when they were left alone”, but refused to go into further detail.
Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, said: “They did exactly as they should have done from start to finish… and we’re extremely proud of them.”
The crew travelled first class on a British Airways flight from Tehran to Heathrow, before flying by helicopter to meet their families in Devon.
Penny Banks, who was reunited with her son, Lance Corporal Mark Banks, said: “We are delighted to have him back – it was nice to hold him again.”
In a press conference outside Downing Street, Tony Blair said he was “glad” the crew had been returned “safe and unharmed”.
He said “no deal” had been done with the Iranians to secure their release, despite claims by Iran that it received a written apology from Britain on Tuesday.
The US welcomed Iran’s decision to free the servicemen, but said the positive move would not ease tensions over its nuclear programme.
Iran accused the crew of straying into its waters, although the British have insisted throughout that they were in Iraqi territory.
It has been suggested that the risk to British personnel was higher on the day they were seized – 23 March – because the government was pushing through a UN resolution imposing sanctions on Iran just 24 hours later.
It emerged on Thursday that in a television interview recorded before their capture, Capt Chris Air said one purpose of patrols in the area was to gather intelligence on any sort of Iranian activity.
The MoD said this was “entirely appropriate” and “all part of modern operations”.
British soldiers in southern Iraq were reportedly told earlier this year to use “maximum force” to avoid being captured while on patrol.
It is not known whether naval personnel were given the same instructions.
CAPTURED NAVY PERSONNEL
Chris Air, 25, from Altrincham in Cheshire
Mark Banks, 24, of Lowestoft, Suffolk
Paul Barton, of Southport, Merseyside
Arthur Batchelor, 20, of Plymouth
Felix Carman, 26, of Swansea
Christopher Coe, 31, of Huddersfield
Dean Harris, 24, of Carmarthen, west Wales
Danny Masterton, 26, of Muirkirk, Ayrshire
Adam Sperry, 22, of Wigston, near Leicester
Nathan Summers, of Hayle, Cornwall
Joe Tindell, 21, of south London
Faye Turney, 26, originally from Shropshire
© BBC MMVII
Posted in accordance with itle 17, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.