The Ministry of Defence has apologised after it was revealed that the remains of 30 soldiers killed on duty in Afghanistan were retained, unbeknown to the families of the deceased.

The MoD has not said if anyone had been disciplined over the scandal.

It was revealed last month that the Royal Military Police kept the remains, which included around 50 tissue samples and six body parts.

soldiers afghanistan

British soldiers trudge through a flooded field while on patrol in Helmand Province

The remains should have been given to the families for burial.

The grim discovery of the body parts was made at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford after the Military Police's Special Investigations Branch (SIB) appointed a new manager.

The tissue samples, which date from 2002 onwards, were being stored at SIB's headquarters in Wiltshire.

"We owe a huge apology to the families involved and those who will now be feeling stressful even if it doesn't affect them," Major General Everard told the BBC News.

The Major, who blamed a “process failure” for the storage of the remains, has launched an investigation.

Reported by the Press Association, Everard said: "There was a hint in some of the newspapers that these parts and tissue samples were being held for wider purpose. They weren't.

"These were just tissue samples that we had failed to recover post-inquest and deal with in line with the families' wishes.

"It's a failure of process, nothing more than that, but we absolutely recognise this will cause distress and we're deeply sorry."

The families of the soldiers now face the prospect of being told of the find. The MoD blamed a breakdown in the liaison between the military and the families of the deceased, which led to the lack of consent to retain the parts being gained.

According to an MoD spokesman, remains of soldiers killed in action are occasionally retained by the SIB as part of their investigation into that service person’s death.

lord dannatt

Lord Dannatt told the Daily Mail: "This type of thing cannot be allowed to happen."

The spokesperson said: "Investigations are being carried out urgently into this matter. The RMP Special Investigations Branch has also taken swift action to ensure this cannot happen again and are identifying the families affected as quickly as possible."

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Lord Dannatt, the former Chief of the General Staff, said: "If there are individuals responsible for allowing this type of thing to happen they must certainly be held to account.

"Allegations like these are very serious and there must be an investigation. Everything must be done to see that this type of thing cannot be allowed to happen."