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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 July, 2003, 19:53 GMT 20:53 UK
SAS man's death 'accidental'
Soldiers in Oman
The Army often uses Oman for training
An SAS soldier killed by friendly fire during a training exercise died as a result of an accident, a coroner has ruled.

Sergeant Kevin Andrew Butterton was hit in the head by shrapnel from a mortar shell as he and two teams of comrades advanced on a bunker during a live fire exercise in Oman.

The 33-year-old, who was born in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, but lived in Hereford - where the elite regiment is based - died in hospital two days later from massive brain injuries.

Recording a verdict of accidental death, Herefordshire coroner David Halpern said the evidence suggested that Sgt Butterton's death was the result of a failure of communication between two mortar operators.

Anonymous witnesses

It resulted in one of the artillery guns being trained on the position where the soldier and his colleagues were attacking, instead of a line of imaginary enemy mortars positioned 200 metres away.

But Mr Halpern told the soldier's partner, Juliet Wood, and the families who attended the hearing at Hereford Town Hall, that no one individual could be blamed for the accident.

The inquest heard how Sgt Butterton was attached to a unit that spent nearly two months training in the Gulf state between June and July last year.

The culmination of the programme was a live fire attack in the early hours of 27 July on two ridge-topped bunkers, in which two SAS teams were to advance under mortar fire and shells from artillery batteries positioned about two miles away.

I saw a small orange flash rising from the ground to Sergeant Butterton's left side
Anonymous SAS witness

One soldier, who like all the other servicemen to give evidence remained anonymous, said Sgt Butterton was the first one to realise something was wrong when a shell exploded around 15 feet away from the advancing group.

Another soldier described how he saw the second fatal shell land much closer to Sgt Butterton.

"I saw a small orange flash rising from the ground to Sergeant Butterton's left side following which I saw him falling, roll to the floor," the soldier said.

Another soldier shouted into his radio: "Check fire! Check fire! We are being mortared."

It emerged that a second soldier had also been hit by shrapnel, but was less seriously injured.

'Wasteful' death

Both men were airlifted to a hospital in Muscat, but Sgt Butterton died two days later.

Two military experts who gave evidence at the inquest suggested the radios the soldiers were using could have been to blame for the mix-up which led to the accident because messages could have been "garbled" or simply not received.

In recording his verdict, Mr Halpern offered his condolences to the family, telling them that Sgt Butterton was an "elite soldier of some calibre".

He added: "I am just so sorry that his death should arrive in a training exercise.

"It just seems to be so wasteful of the expertise he had."

Profile: The SAS
02 Aug 02  |  UK

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