'The bravest of soldiers, the best of men': Victoria Cross soldier James Ashworth was killed by his own grenade

A soldier who posthumously received one of only two Victoria Crosses awarded for exceptional bravery in Afghanistan was killed by his own grenade, an inquest heard.

A soldier who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross after he died trying to rescue his comrades was unlawfully killed, a coroner ruled today.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth, 23, of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, was fatally wounded as he tried to single-handedly take out a Taliban sniper who was firing on his colleagues.

Revealing the cause of death, Northamptonshire coroner Anne Pember said a post mortem showed L/Cpl Ashworth died from blast injuries caused by an explosion, and recorded a verdict of “ unlawful killing”.

Kettering coroner’s court heard how a wounded insurgent, who had already killed a number of combined Nato and local Afghanistan forces, was holed up inside a small hut.

A group of Grenadier Guards was unable to force him out or persuade him surrender, so L/Cpl Ashworth volunteered to approach the hut by crawling behind the cover of a low wall and then “post” a grenade into the building.

Witnesses told the inquest that the 23-year-old was almost there when a blast sent up a cloud of dust. They initially thought he had hit an improvised explosive device (IED), but the coroner was able to establish that he had in fact taken the pin out of a grenade and was about to throw it when the sniper spotted him.

The insurgent peppered the area with bullets where L/Cpl Ashworth was hiding, one of which hit his body armour. The impact knocked the grenade out of his hand, and it exploded shortly afterwards, killing him.

Speaking after the inquest in Kettering, his mother Kerry said her son had died doing the job he loved.

She said: “His smile can light up any room he goes into and we all love and miss him so.

”James passed away doing a job he loved. At times it was a hard job but he did get to experience new countries, learn new skills and make some wonderful friends.

“James will be forever be in our hearts, thoughts and prayers and we will never get over his passing. But we will stay strong together as a family and along with his friends we will remain positive and celebrate his life at every opportunity as I know that is what he would want us to do.”

His commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel James Bowder said he was “the bravest of soldiers, the best of men”.

Lance Corporal James Ashworth was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery on 18 March this year. He is only the 14th person to receive the medal since the Second World War, which is the highest accolade a soldier can be given.

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