Koresh blamed for cult Britons' deaths

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The blame for the tragic deaths of 23 Britons in the Waco compound of the Branch Davidians in Texas must lie with the fanatical cult leader David Koresh, a coroner said yesterday.

Leonard Gorodkin, the Manchester coroner, said that Koresh, the self-styled Messiah, could have saved the lives of those inside despite the FBI's tank and tear gas assault on the building. However, the coroner also said that the FBI raid had been badly planned, ill-conceived and doomed to failure.

The coroner recorded open verdicts on all the Britons except six-year-old Melissa Morrison from Manchester, who he said had been unlawfully killed because her age meant she could not possibly have consented to what was happening. Mr Gorodkin told the court, packed with relatives of the dead, that by the final raid on 19 April 1993, at the end of a 51-day siege, Koresh had possibly decided his death was coming.

"I believe all the deaths that occurred on 19 April were his decision and must be laid at his door, and despite what went on outside he could have saved them. It was as a result of his personality and his hold over those people that they died on that day," said Mr Gorodkin.

The building had been set on fire deliberately during the FBI tank and gas assault at the end of the siege. Seventy-five Branch Davidians died in the fire along with Koresh and his right hand man, Steve Schneider.

The open verdicts included those on brothers Phillip and Stephen Henry, from Manchester, who both had gunshot wounds, although they were alive when the fire started. For Winston Blake, 27, from Nottingham, who was shot at close range during a raid on 28 February, there was also an open verdict because it was impossible to say how it had happened.

The inquest had heard earlier that all the other victims died from the effects of inhaling smoke as the compound turned into an inferno.