Kovco escort ‘not to blame’

One of Pte Kovco’s commanding officers told the inquiry it was extremely difficult to identify the young Victorian soldier’s corpse before it was returned to Australia.

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Pte Kovco died on April 21 after being shot in the head with his own pistol inside his Baghdad barracks.

His commanding officer, a company sergeant major, codenamed Soldier 33, said he found it almost impossible to recognise Pte Kovco when he saw his body in a Kuwait morgue.

Graphic photos shown to the inquiry at Victoria Barracks in

Sydney showed Pte Kovco’s pale face with swollen black eyelids and bloody bandages on top of his head.

Around his neck was a brace with various tubes and other medical devices sticking out of his mouth.

The escort platoon sergeant, codenamed Soldier 2, mistook the body of a Bosnian carpenter for Pte Kovco when he made a final identification check at a civilian morgue in Kuwait.

The carpenter’s body was then flown to Australia instead of Pte Kovco’s corpse.

But Soldier 33 said Pte Kovco’s original escort was not to blame for the mix-up.

Soldier 33 said when he went to the Kuwait morgue after the bungle was discovered, he had problems identifying Pte Kovco even though he had known him for quite a while.

“He was almost impossible to recognise when I looked in the body bag,” Soldier 33 told the inquiry in a statement.

“The escorting officer should not be made a scapegoat for the mix-up. Anyone could have got the initial identification wrong.”

Soldier 2 told the inquiry on Tuesday that he was devastated when he learned about the repatriation bungle.

He said that at the time he had to make the final check of Pte

Kovco’s body in Kuwait, he was extremely stressed, tired and emotional.

Finishing his evidence before the inquiry on Wednesday, Soldier 2 said he didn’t realise when he did the final check that the body shown to him had a moustache but no neck brace or any medical tubes in his mouth.

“I didn’t notice the difference,” he said.

“Obviously the environment I was in at the time had a bearing on it.

“The fact that I wasn’t, I didn’t feel I wanted to have a detailed look at the body as well. Basically those are the factors.”

’Not suicidal’

Meanwhile a leading psychiatrist told the inquiry that Private Kovco was not feeling suicidal at the time he was shot in the head in Baghdad.

University of Adelaide professor of psychiatry, Sandy McFarlane, told the inquiry he did not believe the Victorian deliberately shot himself in the head with his 9mm pistol on April 21 this year.

Prof McFarlane had examined Pte Kovco’s personal diary, his psychiatric records and written statements by other soldiers about the shooting.

The inquiry has heard previously that about a month before he was shot in the head, Private Kovco wrote about a gory dream in which he had a disturbing premonition of his death.

But Prof McFarlane said Pte Kovco had noted in his diary entry about the dream that he had no intention of killing himself.

“There was no evidence on my reading of him having any …. suicidal thinking,” Prof McFarlane told the inquiry.

“Pte Kovco didn’t suffer from any particular psychological disorders or have any suicidal thoughts.”

The inquiry continues.