Woman soldier was 'unlawfully killed after inadequate training'

Coroner promises to raise concerns about deaths of four British troops with the Ministry of Defence
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The Independent Online

The first British woman soldier to be killed in Afghanistan was inadequately trained and lacked vital equipment, a coroner ruled yesterday.

At the end of an inquest into the deaths of Corporal Sarah Bryant, 26, and three Territorial Army reservists, the Wiltshire coroner David Masters recorded verdicts of unlawful killing in all four cases and said he would raise concerns with the Ministry of Defence about "theatre-wide" equipment shortages and gaps in training which led to the deaths. The Armed Forces minister, Bill Rammell, admitted the "training provided ... could have been better".

"The coroner has raised a number of serious questions in his verdict. We will look at these issues in detail and respond more fully to the coroner and the families as soon as possible," Mr Rammell said last night.

Cpl Bryant, 26, of the Intelligence Corps, and special forces reservists Corporal Sean Reeve, 28, Lance-Corporal Richard Larkin, 39, and Private Paul Stout, 31, died when their Snatch Land Rover detonated a roadside bomb hidden in a shallow ditch near Lashkar Gah, Helmand, in June 2008.

After the inquest, the families of Cpl Reeve and L/Cpl Larkin said: "We hope the lack of resources and shortcomings in training and planning which have been exposed in the evidence we have heard will not be repeated. We hope the MoD will heed the recommendations of the coroner and that, by reason of the changes they make, no other families will have to stand in the position in which we stand today."

The six-day inquest at Trowbridge Town Hall heard a string of criticisms of the troops' equipment and training before they left the UK. They were not shown how to use metal detectors because of an equipment shortage, and were forced to seek out experts at their Afghan base to train them.

The use of the Snatch Land Rover, a lightly-armoured vehicle in which at least 37 British soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been controversial. Their vulnerability to roadside bombs and other explosives has led some soldiers to call them "mobile coffins". The commanding officer of 23 SAS regiment told the inquest he raised concerns about the lack of safer vehicles and was told he would have to make do as no others were available.

Mr Masters said: "At the time leading up to these deaths, training ... for this unit was inadequate ... Not only was there a shortage of that equipment for training but also for use ... in the field."

Following Mr Masters's verdict, Pte Stout's parents, Ginette and Alan Stout, said: "These brave, bright, young people may still be alive today if they had the right equipment and the proper full training. The pain of such an unavoidable early death is always forefront in our minds. Hopefully, there must be lessons learned from this terrible tragedy."

Cpl Bryant's mother, Maureen Feely, said: "Sarah would not have wished to be treated any differently from any other of her colleagues. She was a soldier who died with honour. We do not want some of the issues this inquest has raised to detract from Sarah's bravery, dedication and selflessness."

Aides travelling with Gordon Brown in Afghanistan at the weekend said an announcement about 200 new vehicles to replace Snatch Land Rovers was expected within weeks.

*Tributes were paid yesterday to two infantrymen killed on patrols in the Afghan town of Sangin on Sunday. Cpl Stephen Thompson, 31, of 1st Battalion The Rifles, died in an explosion and L/Cpl Tom Keogh, 24, of 4th Battalion The Rifles, was shot dead.

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