Ambush survivor describes desperate scramble for cover

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The family of a British soldier who survived an ambush that killed three Royal Military policemen travelling in a civilian vehicle in Iraq spoke yesterday of his distress at the attack.

Corporal Richard Lay, a train driver and member of the Territorial Army, suffered head and arm injuries in the incident in the southern city of Basra on Saturday.

Cpl Lay, of Warton, Lancashire, who has a seven-year-old daughter, Charlotte, spoke to his wife, Janet, 35, and his mother-in-law, Hella Harrison, in a telephone conversation yesterday.

He told his wife how he crouched for cover when the Nissan four-wheel-drive came under gunfire. "Richard said he was in the back of the jeep and he managed to crouch down and then he went unconscious. All he knew about it was when he woke up in the hospital," Mrs Lay said.

Major Matthew Titchener, 32, from Southport, Merseyside; Warrant Officer Colin Wall, 34, from Crawleyside, Co Durham; and Corporal Dewi Pritchard, 35, of Bridgend, South Wales, died in the ambush. Each was a father.

Unconfirmed reports said gunmen threw a grenade at the men's vehicle after shooting at them. A Ministry of Defence spokewoman defended the Army's use of unarmoured, civilian vehicles as a necessary part of "winning hearts and minds".

Mrs Harrison added that Cpl Lay was "distraught" at the weekend's events. "He is just so lucky to be alive. He is very distraught that three of his comrades died.

"Richard is fine but he seemed very, very shocked about what has happened. I am relieved he is all right but my thoughts go out to the three families. Richard said the others were all good men and it shouldn't have happened."

Colleagues of one of the victims paid tribute as they returned from the bank holiday break. Cpl Pritchard, also in the Territorial Army, was an electronics engineer who worked for Bosch in Cardiff.

Adam Willmott, technical plant manager at the Welsh site, said: "We are all very sad to learn of the death of Dewi and our thoughts are with his family. Dewi has been a very valued member of Bosch Cardiff for nine years and he will be terribly missed by friends and colleagues."

Despite the attack, a senior British police officer in Iraq insisted that the security situation in the city of Basra was under control.