The father of a young soldier who was accidentally shot dead by a comrade while on active service in Afghanistan called today for lessons to be learned from the tragedy.
Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, 22, was killed by gunfire from a remote observation post fired by a sniper who thought he was shooting at Taliban insurgents, an inquest was told.
L/Cpl Pritchard, who was on secondment with 4th Battalion The Rifles, was deployed to the observation post N30 on December 20 2009 to watch a blind spot on an access road, Route 611, in the Sangin area, central Helmand province, to make sure insurgents did not plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the road, the inquest was told.
The sniper, Lance Corporal Malcolm Graham, of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, arrived at the remote sangar after being told he was needed to fire an accurate shot at the insurgents, the hearing at Eastbourne Town Hall heard.
But he was not aware of the correct position of N30 and he was not told about the restricted firing line nearby despite asking if there were any British soldiers in the area.
He told the inquest he "had absolutely no doubt, 110% in my mind I was shooting at insurgents the whole time".
East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of accidental death and said a number of factors including poor communication had played a part but that the basic reason for the tragedy was the failure of the those running the operation to prevent 'blue on blue' contact.
Speaking outside court, L/Cpl Pritchard's father Gary said: "We hope and trust that the Army will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again."
He thanked the soldiers who had helped the coroner by giving evidence and said: "This was very tough because they were reliving a terrible event and they did the best to tell the coroner what happened.
"I am especially indebted to all those soldiers who were with Michael and tried to help him.
"We hope and trust that the Army ensure that they take steps to make sure this does not happen again."
Helen Perry, L/Cpl Pritchard's mother, said the last time she had spoken to her son she could hear the fear in his voice.
She said: "While Michael was employed in Afghanistan we kept in regular contact through telephone and emails and he tried to remain his upbeat self.
"During the week before he died he phoned three times and I could sense the fear in his voice.
"He said: 'I am moving mum. The communications will be bad and I will not be able to call you for a while'. Little did I know that would be the last time I would hear from him."
She said his death had been avoidable but that it had been caused by "speculation and assumption".
She said: "Nobody in command took any action to rectify the situation and subsequently nobody has taken any responsibility for Michael's death. He has received no apology."
Mr Craze said that despite erroneous decisions being made L/Cpl Pritchard's death was an accident, albeit an avoidable one.
He said an inadequate briefings system and lack of understanding about where the restricted firing line was had exacerbated the situation.
He said: "There was an overriding sense that they had arrived in a hornets' nest in a war zone and that they had to win.
"So although there was no gung-ho or snap happy attitude they were there to engage insurgents."
Lieutenant Colonel Nadine Parks, Commanding Officer, 4th Regiment Royal Military Police, said: "L/Cpl Pritchard was a brave and professional soldier whose tragic death deprived the Royal Military Police of a promising young junior non-commissioned officer and loyal friend.
"He made a huge impact on our regiment in the short time he served with us, and his loss has been felt most keenly by those who worked alongside him."
An Army spokeswoman said lessons had been learned and changes made to the standard operating procedures used by soldiers on operations in Afghanistan.
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