Colonel died because of lack of armour, inquest told

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The Independent Online

The most senior British Army officer to be killed in action since the Falklands War died while travelling in a vehicle which lacked upgraded armour, an inquest heard yesterday.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe had warned the Ministry of Defence that a lack of helicopters was putting the lives of his troops at risk before his death in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

It was while he was travelling by road near Lashkar Gar on 1 July last year that Lt Col Thorneloe, 39, and Trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, were killed by a roadside bomb.

Corporal Kevin Williams, who survived the blast, told an inquest at Trowbridge in Wiltshire that the front section of the Viking armoured vehicle they were travelling in had received an armour upgrade. But this had not been extended to the rear, which took the force of the blast. The back section of Vikings subsequently received upgraded armour. Yesterday Lt Col Thorneloe's father, Major John Thorneloe, said "the one good thing" that might have come out of his son's death was that it made the Government realise that wars needed to be fought with the "worst case" scenario in mind and with "all the requisite equipment".

The inquest heard that Lt Col Thorneloe, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, wanted to "inspire" his men by going out on patrol and taking the exposed position of "top cover" – providing fire support – in the Viking.

Major Andrew Speed, Lt Col Thorneloe's second in command, said: "Like all good leaders, Col Rupert wanted to get on the ground. Any good leader wants to get a feel for what his troops were doing. He wanted to demonstrate that he was prepared to do what they do." Major Speed said he was aware of an email Lt Col Thorneloe had written to the MoD about a lack of helicopters.

"He had his own mind. He wanted to share his views with someone outside Afghanistan," he said. But he pointed out that helicopters would not have been used in the patrol on which he was killed.

Coroner David Ridley recorded that Lt Col Thorneloe, of Aldershot, and Trooper Hammond, from Plymouth, were unlawfully killed.