Coroner criticises Army over lack of bomb-jamming kits

Terri Judd
Wednesday 17 September 2008 00:00
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Two British soldiers were killed by a radio-controlled roadside bomb because they were having to rely on Danish electronic jamming equipment, unaware that it was not working properly, an inquest heard.

Pte Ben Ford, 18, the youngest British soldier to die in Afghanistan, and Pte Damian Wright, 23, from the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters), were on a patrol north of Lashkar Gah in Helmand, when they were caught in the explosion on 5 September last year. An interpreter later died of his injuries.

There has been an increase in such attacks and all vehicles leaving UK bases must be within range of electronic counter-measures (ECM) protection. But the inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, heard that the British convoy did not have enough ECM to go round and was having to rely on driving close to its coalition partners so that it was within their field of protection.

Pte Ford and his team believed themselves to be protected, unaware that the Danish equipment on the vehicle ahead of them had failed midway through the patrol, leaving them vulnerable.

"All of the platoons were using Danish ECMs; it was standard practice when I arrived in theatre," Lieutenant Jack Bellfield, the platoon commander, told the coroner, David Masters. He added: "We were told there was not sufficient ECM resources for each [British] vehicle. I'm pretty sure nearly all their [Danish] vehicles had ECM."

While the Danish ECM was compatible with British equipment, the officer explained, he was not told that it may not have been working properly on that day. "You had not been informed by the Danish forces that their ECM was deficient in any way?" asked Mr Masters, to which Lt Bellfield replied: "Not until afterwards, sir."

Challenging the Ministry of Defence's ECM expert, Adrian Hyncica, Mr Masters said: "It strikes me that it is very difficult to rely on range – you never know whether you are going to be just inside or just outside that range. What should happen is that every vehicle that is on patrol should be equipped with fully-operational ECM."

Mr Hyncica replied: "I agree, and that's the position we are working towards." To which the coroner countered: "A bit late, isn't it?"

The inquest continues.

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