17 Oct 2013

Six British soldiers ‘unlawfully killed’ in Afghanistan

Six British army soldiers who died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack in March 2012 in Afghanistan were “unlawfully killed whilst on active service”, a coroner rules.

The six soldiers were patrolling in an armoured warrior vehicle about 25 miles north of the capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, on 6 March 2012.

Giving a narrative verdict, coroner Darren Salter said: “I am not going to second-guess decisions of commanders in a courtroom today, that is not the purpose of an inquest.

“These are experienced commanders who took decisions on the ground, balancing the risks and exercising judgments. There was nothing that their comrades could have done to rescue or save them.

They can always build a bigger bomb. Major Douglas Nelson

Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, and privates Anthony Frampton, 20, Daniel Wade, 20, Christopher Kershaw, 19, and Daniel Wilford, 21, all members of the Yorkshire Regiment’s 3rd Battalion, alongside Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, a member of The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, died of blast injuries caused by the explosion.

The inquest heard from comrades of the six dead soldiers, some of whom had travelled with them on the patrol in a second warrior vehicle.

Sergeant Michael Watts, who was in the second vehicle, told the court how the force of the explosion turned the warrior on to its side and “flicked off” its turret, with a fire breaking out almost instantly, which then went on to set off ammunition inside.

Improvements to vehicles

Improvements have been made to warrior vehicles since the incident including better armour, burst resistant fuel tanks, better ways of getting in and out during emergencies and improved fire detection and protection systems.

Major Douglas Nelson, an expert on the warrior vehicle, said although improvements had been made since the six men died. But he added: “They (insurgents) can always build a bigger bomb…This was a very large device and what I would say is no vehicle that we had was designed to take that.”

The patrol had been due to leave earlier in the day, but was delayed due to a sandstorm. The court was told it was important to send out the patrol that day, rather than waiting until the next, because of “force protection” and showing a visible presence to insurgents.

Sergeant Watts described the departure as a “bit of a fast ball.” He said: “It wasn’t expected in such short notice – by no means that we weren’t capable but it’s just an expression. By no means did it affect us in any way.”

The two warriors left at 6.20pm and the IED exploded roughly 20 minutes into the patrol.

One of the soldiers, Private Christopher Kershaw, was not due to be on the patrol but was kitted up so went along anyway. His mother, Monica Kershaw, said the whole process has felt like a “nightmare” leaving her “emotionally drained.

Read more on the warrior vehicles here

“From the information we have heard at the inquest, it was a pure quirk of fate that Chris should have been kitted up and got into a patrol for which he was not intended,” she said.

“I am still struggling with this – but how like him to be ready to do his duty for his fellow soldiers. How proud I am of his call to duty.”

Corporal Hartley’s mother, Natalie Taylor, hit out at politicians after the hearing.

She said: “Our servicemen and women will continue to die as long as politicians who rule our lives value money more than the lives of our sons and daughters.”

Lieutenant Colonel Andy Cox MBE, Chief of Staff Task Force Helmand at the time of the incident, said: “On behalf of the Army and 12 Mechanized Brigade, I would like to pay tribute to the six outstanding soldiers who tragically lost their lives in this incident.

“These men paid the ultimate sacrifice whilst serving their country and delivering a better future for the people of Afghanistan. Their loss is felt keenly across the regiment and the brigade, although this cannot compare to the pain felt by their families and friends. Our thoughts and prayers remain with them today and always.”