Coroner attacks MoD over captain's death

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The Independent Online

A coroner accused the Ministry of Defence today of breaching British soldiers' trust by sending them to Afghanistan without basic equipment.

Andrew Walker spoke out at the end of an inquest into the death of Captain James Philippson, 29, of 7 Parachute Regiment Royal Horse Artillery, in a firefight with Taliban troops on 11 June 2006 in which British forces were "totally out-gunned".

The Oxford inquest heard that, before his death, 7 Para soldiers complained repeatedly about a lack of proper equipment - chiefly standard night vision kits and weaponry.

Even after his death, the much-needed equipment did not arrive, the hearing was told.

Mr Walker, assistant coroner for Oxfordshire, said: "They (the soldiers) were defeated not by the terrorists but by the lack of basic equipment.

"To send soldiers into a combat zone without basic equipment is unforgivable, inexcusable and a breach of trust between the soldiers and those who govern them."

He recorded a narrative verdict in which he said Capt Philippson was unlawfully killed.

Anthony Philippson, Capt Philippson's father, from St Albans, Herts, said after the inquest: "He (the coroner) laid into them (MoD) particularly badly for the lack of equipment.

"I do hold the MoD responsible for James's death but it is not just the MoD, it goes much deeper than that.

"The Treasury and the then Chancellor, Gordon Brown, will be really to blame for what happened. The MoD was starved of cash by the Chancellor.

"Soldiers should never be sent out under-equipped, the coroner made that quite clear."

Speaking of his son, he said: "James had always wanted to go where the action was."

Capt Philippson was part of a quick-reaction force dispatched to assist another group of British soldiers who came under fire after they were sent to retrieve an un-manned aerial reconnaissance vehicle (UAV) which had come down near their base at Sangin, Helmand Province.

As he ran to help, Capt Philippson was hit in the temple by a bullet. Cause of death was given as a gunshot wound to the head.

A series of Capt Philippson's surviving colleagues told the inquest that they were not supplied with the required equipment - night-vision kits and an array of weaponry.

Major Johnny Bristow, Capt Philippson's commanding officer, agreed this had led to them being "totally out-gunned" by Taliban forces.

The coroner asked Maj Bristow if, had they been supplied with Minimi machine guns and under-slung grenade launchers, they would have been a match for their attackers.

"It would have made a hell of a difference," he said.

He said there were three or four night vision kits between as many as 30 men.

Sergeant Jason Tomlinson, of 7 Para, described the lack of kit as "disgusting".

The hearing was told the Taliban forces had multiple rocket-propelled grenade launchers and other firepower.

Major Michael Shervington, of the Parachute Regiment, president of an MoD board of inquiry (BoI)into the death, said: "I do not believe there was a serious shortage of weapons, but yes, there was a shortage."

The BoI report concluded that Capt Philippson was killed as a result of "poor tactical decision-making", a lack of standard operating procedures and a shortage of "mission-essential equipment".

Mr Philippson added: "I came here today with the hope that they would support the Army BoI report, which the coroner did 100%."

The 7 Para soldiers were deployed to Afghanistan to help train soldiers from the Afghan national army with a view to them controlling the Sangin area.



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