Commander of captured troops to be disciplined

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The officer commanding the British soldiers abducted by the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone was responsible for "an error of professional judgement" and a "grave mistake", an army inquiry has decided.

The officer commanding the British soldiers abducted by the West Side Boys in Sierra Leone was responsible for "an error of professional judgement" and a "grave mistake", an army inquiry has decided.

Major Alan Marshall, who will face disciplinary action, led 10 men from the Royal Irish Regiment and their Sierra Leone Army liaison into a village held by the West Side Boys, where they were disarmed and captured on 25 August. The operation to rescue them cost the life of Bombardier Brad Tinnion of the SAS and injuries to 11 other British soldiers.

The kidnappings caused the Government and the military establishment massive embarrassment and led to demands from the Opposition that British forces withdraw from the West African state.

Major Marshall had told the army inquiry he had taken his men on an exploratory exercise to the village of Magbeni, unaware that it was the stronghold of the West Side Boys militia.

After the inquiry, the commander of British forces in Sierra Leone, Brigadier Gordon Hughes, was told that forces under him "must never again find themselves inadvertently in a position which may lead to their capture". He was also ordered to ensure that British forces have "heightened awareness [of the volatility of the situation], lower general profile and reduce their use of public places".

The case of Major Marshall, 33, from Northern Ireland, isexpected to be dealt with by Lieutenant-General Sir Mike Jackson, the commander-in-chief of UK land forces. Major Marshall will not face a court martial as he was not found to have broken military law.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "Major Alan Marshall made an error of professional judgement... he made a grave mistake and he will be dealt with by the commander in chief of UK land forces who will decide any necessary disciplinary action."

Yesterday the tale of how the heavily armed British soldiers, who included a captain and two senior non-commissioned officers, were captured by the West Side Boys, widely regarded as a bunch of drunken thugs, and stripped of their uniforms and weapons, was described for the first time.

Major Marshall, highly regarded by his colleagues, is said to be deeply upset by what had happened and especially the death of Bombardier Tinnion.

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