Soldier relives double bomb tragedy

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The Independent Online

A hero soldier described today a Taliban double bomb attack which left five of his comrades dead.

Sergeant Jaime Moncho, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, was giving evidence at an inquest on the same day it was announced he had been awarded a Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for his bravery during the attack.

His 2 Rifles comrades lost their lives near Sangin, Helmand Province, last July during Operation Panther's Claw, in two explosions.

They were Corporal Jonathan "Jay" Horne, 28, from Walsall; Rifleman William Aldridge, 18, from Bromyard, Herefordshire; Rifleman James Backhouse, 18, from Castleford, West Yorkshire; Rifleman Joseph Murphy, 18, from Castle Bromwich; and Rifleman Daniel Simpson, 20, from Croydon, south London.

Rfn Aldridge, Rfn Backhouse and Rfn Simpson were hit in the first blast. Cpl Horne and Rfn Murphy went to their aid and Rfn Murphy was carrying Rfn Simpson from the scene when they were killed in the second blast.

The inquest at Wiltshire Coroner's Court, sitting at Trowbridge Town Hall, heard Sjt Moncho braved enemy fire to go to the aid of his fallen comrades and organise an evacuation of the injured.

The soldier told the hearing: "Once we got to the compound ourselves, we could see through the gap, the casualties and where they were.

"At that stage I heard a crack and a thump, a possible round of small arms fire.

"At that time we had to formulate very quickly a set of battle orders."

Coroner David Ridley praised the speed with which he took control of the situation and began treating casualties while under fire.

Mr Ridley told him: "It is tragic that it (the medal) came out of this incident but you quite rightly deserve it."

Sgt Moncho's medal citation reads: "His supreme courage in the face of the most testing of circumstances was exemplary and his personal actions steadied all those around him."

Captain Ross Hocking told the inquest the purpose of the patrol was "a greeting session really, to gather as much information as we could and interact with the locals".

He said: "As we made our way through the compound it drops away sharply downhill. It was at the base of the hill where we heard an explosion behind us.

"We just heard a large boom and saw the top of a dust cloud from the base of the slope."

The team came under small arms fire and pushed into dead ground, before coming back to deal with the first wave of casualties, he said.

Describing the scene, he said: "As soon as we walked back through the gap in the wall there were several people lying on the floor and pretty much everyone was helping to sort out casualties.

"I could see one person not moving, on the floor. The amount of casualties would suggest a large blast - or several. There were two craters either side of the gap in the wall."

The men who were still capable began helping the casualties and getting them on to stretchers when the second blast detonated.

Capt Hocking said: "I looked into the compound to see a lot of bodies, a lot of people on the floor and basically it was something out of a movie really."

The grieving mothers of the five soldiers were among relatives who were at the inquest today.

They went on to launch the charity Afghan Heroes, to provide support for other families who find themselves in the same terrible situation.

The hearing is due to end later today.

Sgt Moncho, 31, is based at Ballykinler, Northern Ireland.

Coroner David Ridley later recorded verdicts of unlawful killing, adding that if the Taliban suspects were ever caught they would face murder charges.