North Norfolk couple want answers from inquiry into deaths of more than 300 babies

A north Norfolk couple who have lead a campaign for an inquiry into the deaths of around 300 babies, including their own daughter, born to military families in Cyprus in the 1960s, say they just want an answer as to what happened.

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

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, around 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.

Mr Pitcher, whose wife subsequently had three healthy children, said: 'We could not believe what we were seeing, the majority of graves were for babies who had died from one hour old up to two or three days old. There were just rows and rows of graves.'

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He said he also could not contemplate the number of stillborn babies there may have been, as in the 1960s any children who were stillborn were not given proper headstones.

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.

An investigation into the deaths was launched in August this year, and the results are expected be presented to Mr Lamb in the next two weeks. Mr Pitcher said: 'Mr Lamb has really pushed for this inquiry. There are a lot of people who want closure with this, there are an awful lot of graves out there and no one knows why they died.'

Mr Pitcher said although it was compulsory for British military personnel to undergo a large concoction of inoculations, maybe six or seven, for things such as yellow fever and typhoid, he said he could not be sure why the babies died.

He said: 'I do not know the reason why this happened, all I am looking for is a layman's answer, I do not want a load of facts and figures. I just want a simple answer.'

Mr Lamb added: 'This has been a remarkable campaign by the Pitchers to get this extraordinary issue reopened. I have great admiration for them. It looks like now they may finally get some answers.'

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Defence confirmed they were investigating the matter.

She said: 'As part of this investigation, we are examining the completeness and accuracy of the births and deaths registration data.'

An independent expert, Prof Stephen Evans of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has analysed the data to determine if the death rate was higher than normal on the base.