Battlefield procedures need review, coroner tells MoD

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The Independent Online

A top-level review of battlefield procedures is needed to prevent "friendly fire" incidents, a coroner said yesterday at the inquest of three British soldiers killed by a US air strike in Afghanistan.

David Masters said that following the deaths of Privates Robert Foster, 19, Aaron McClure, 19, and John Thrumble, 21, he would make recommendations to the Government in the hope that it might "ensure tragedy like this never happens again".

The men from B Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, died in Helmand province on 23 August 2007, when the wrong grid references were passed by a forward air controller, Sergeant Mark Perren, to a US F-15 aircraft. It dropped a 500lb bomb that landed 500m short of its target, hitting the Royal Anglian patrol which had come under heavy fire from Taliban forces. Sgt Perren was investigated but no charges were brought against him, the hearing at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, was told.

Recording a narrative verdict on the soldiers' deaths, Mr Masters urged the Ministry of Defence to review battlefield procedures. He said back-up should be provided by a second person when grid references were given for air strikes, satellite tracking should be used to find the dead and injured, and a "headcount" should be taken following incidents involving multiple casualties. The inquest was told that B Company returned to base after the attack without Pte Foster's body, and had to return to the blast scene to recover it.

"There should be a review of the steps to be taken to assess the fitness and continuing competency following incidents where multiple deaths have occurred," Mr Masters added.

A post-mortem examination showed that Pte Foster, of Essex, died of asphyxia caused by entrapment following the explosion, and Pte McClure and Pte Thrumble died from blast wounds. Hilary Meredith, for the soldiers' families, said: "The MoD sent a young and inexperienced forward air controller to Afghanistan ... He was tasked with the sole responsibility of calculating and transmitting complex vital co-ordinates from the ground to the air to land a 500lb bomb on the Taliban. Not only that but he was not given the correct equipment for the job.

"Crucially, he didn't have a headset to block out background noise and assist in correctly relaying the nine-digit co-ordinates required."

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