'New Taliban device' killed bomb expert

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The Independent Online

A bomb disposal hero did not have equipment to detect a new Taliban device which killed him in Afghanistan, an inquest heard today.

Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid was posthumously awarded the George Cross for disarming 64 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in five months.

But on the last day before he was due to fly home to see his family, he triggered a pressure plate which had recently been developed by the Taliban.

The 30-year-old was hailed as "phenomenally great" and "a giant of a man" as his inquest in Truro came to a close.

S/Sgt Schmid died after his knee came into contact with the plate as he disarmed his third set of explosives on that day alone in Sangin.

Colonel Bob Seddon, Britain's top bomb disposal officer who resigned last year, said it was a "constant battle" to keep up with new IEDs developed by the Taliban.

"With the equipment capability that Olaf had at the time, he would not have had the ability to detect a low metal content pressure plate," Col Seddon told the hearing.

Cornwall coroner Dr Emma Carlyon heard that he had been "impatient" and "not his usual jovial self" on October 31 2009.

But summing up evidence at Truro Coroner's Court, she recorded: "There was nothing in the operation which fell below what might have been expected and that could have contributed to his death."

Speaking after the inquest, the Army said it had moved as "quickly as possible" to develop technology to combat the "constantly changing" threat from insurgents.

Major General John Lorimer, strategic communications officer for the Chief of the Defence Staff, said: "At the time... low metal content IEDs were an emerging threat which we responded to as quickly as possible, by equipping our counter-IED teams with specialist search capabilities."

Col Seddon had told how, in the month after his death in October 2009, the Army had 50% of its desired level of improvised explosive device (IED) specialists.

The inquest heard S/Sgt Schmid had been in a rush to get his job done after a poignant phone call with his stepson the day before.

Several comrades told how he was "impatient" and "frustrated" after his five-year-old stepson Laird told him: "Daddy, time to come home."

"We have to be lucky always, they (the Taliban) have to be lucky just once," Col Seddon said.

"He was working under intense pressure. I believe he should be judged by the number of lives and limbs he saved.

"To the very end he was an exemplar in what I looked for in a high quality operator."

Widow Christina was absent from today's hearing after walking out on evidence midway through yesterday's session.

But in a written statement she said: "It is a deeply unsettling and traumatic process for myself, our families, friends and, of course, those members of his team.

"I will take the next few days to consider its findings in full."

S/Sgt Schmid, of the Royal Logistic Corps, was born in Truro, but lived in Winchester, Hampshire, with Mrs Schmid and Laird.

He joined the Army in 1996 and during the summer before his death he took part in Operation Panther's Claw, the Army's offensive to clear populated areas in central Helmand of Taliban insurgents.