At the time those involved obviously assumed it was an accident of some kind –
as is natural in an operational theatre of war where battlefield accidents with
loaded weapons are not uncommon. The Land Warfare Studies Centre recently
published an excellent working paper on accidental discharge rates and apparent
causes for them in various wars. We also still do not know whether the weapon
itself is faulty.

The
context is also important. This death occurred in a high-intensity
operational theatre of war with all the attendant stresses from the
continuing and high-priority operational tasks undertaken by the unit
concerned. It was not as if they could stop all activities while they
sorted out every possible nuance of the incident.

Furthermore, Kovco did not die at the scene but later in hospital. At the
time the obvious priority was to administer first aid to Kovco, not let him die
unassisted in situ so a potential crime scene could be preserved. This appears
to explain why some kit was moved around and why there was natural movement into
and out of the room.

The initial investigation by the MPs does not appear to have been as
professional as it could have been. If you read the report of the Senate Inquiry
into the military justice system, and the government’s response, you will see
that there is a clear need to improve MP investigative capabilities.

State coroners (increasingly now statutory officeholders) have been
investigating military deaths, off and on, since the mid 1980s. The
NSW Coroner chose to investigate Kovco’s death because his unit was based at
Holsworthy before deploying to Iraq. Those on the scene were not to know that the NSW Coroner
would subsequently choose to hold an investigation, and send NSW Police to
assist in this, although in hindsight they might have guessed this.

Peter Fray

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