Baby deaths investigation is concluded

An investigation launched into the deaths of about 300 babies born to military families, including a couple from north Norfolk, in Cyprus in the 1960s, has concluded that the number of deaths was not 'unusual' given the conditions at the time.

Mike Pitcher, 71, from Mundesley, who served on the island with the RAF from 1961 to 1963, and his wife Mary, 69, have spent more than 10 years urging for an inquiry into the deaths to take place.

The babies died in a military hospital in Dhekelia, one of the two sovereign bases, along with Akrotiri, which Britain retained after Cyprus was granted independence in 1960 after decades of colonial rule.

In one year alone, 1964, about 56 babies died, some of them just a day old.

The babies are buried in a British military cemetery in Cyprus.

Mr Pitcher and his wife had a stillborn baby girl themselves in 1962, while Mr Pitcher was serving on the island. It was 26 years later, after returning to the cemetery in a bid to find a place to erect a headstone for their daughter, that Mr and Mrs Pitcher realised the full horror of how many babies had died.

From then on the couple launched a campaign to get the matter investigated, taking the case to David Prior, former Conservative MP for North Norfolk, and also Mr Prior's successor, Norman Lamb, to push for an inquiry.

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An investigation into the deaths was launched in August this year, and the Ministry of Defence appointed an independent expert, Professor Stephen Evans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, to analyse the number of deaths, to determine if the death rate was higher than normal on the base.

A letter sent to Mr Lamb on November 17 from Andrew Robathan, minister for defence, personal welfare and veterans, with the MoD, states: 'He (Professor Evans) found that the detailed examination of the data from Cyprus shows that there is no unusual feature of the data.

'Professor Evans' overall conclusions are that the mortality rates are not notably out of line with what might be expected in the conditions existing in Cyprus in the 1960s.I hope this will enable you to reassure Mr and Mrs Pitcher that we have carried out a full investigation of the matter, including subjecting the data to expert analysis and that there is no evidence to suggest that child mortality rates in Cyprus during the early 1960s were unnaturally high.'

But Mr Lamb has written back to the MoD requesting to see a copy of the analysis carried out.

He said: 'I have asked to see a copy of the report and analysis so myself and my constituent can see for ourselves and make our own judgement.

'I am not suggesting for minute they are misleading us, and in a way it is reassuring if there is nothing that causes concern, but I would just like to see the report myself.'

A spokesman for the MoD said: 'The Ministry of Defence has investigated the number of infant deaths in Cyprus during the period 1960-66. The figures have been examined by an independent expert, who has advised that the mortality rates are not notably out of line with what might be expected in the conditions existing in Cyprus in the 1960s.'

Mr Pitcher and his wife did not wish to comment further on the matter.