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Last Updated: Friday, 29 September 2006, 13:30 GMT 14:30 UK
Iraq soldier 'alive after ambush'
Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth and Sapper Luke Allsopp
Tony Blair suggested the men had been 'executed'
A soldier fatally wounded in an ambush in Iraq was still breathing as a crowd surrounded him, his inquest has heard.

The bodies of Sgt Simon Cullingworth, 36, and Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, were found in a shallow grave outside Basra.

But footage thought to have been taken four hours after the men's convoy was attacked suggested that Sapper Allsopp was still alive, a pathologist said.

The family received an apology from the government after Tony Blair suggested the men had been "executed".

Dr Nicholas Hunt told Oxford coroner's court the footage - broadcast on al-Jazeera - showed Sapper Allsopp was still breathing "although apparently close to death".

A gunshot wound to the heart would have rendered him unconscious and quickly killed him, but it was not clear when this was sustained.

We continued and got 15 metres past the first vehicle when we were also hit by RPGs, which spun us round and we crashed
L/Cpl Marcus Clarke

Ballistics expert Dr Thomas Warlow said there was nothing to suggest the men had been shot at close range, despite the "massive array of injuries".

"From the bodies and clothing, there is nothing on any of those that to me indicates very close-range fire - and that is within a metre or so."

L/Cpl Philip Law told the court that the men's convoy of two Land Rovers was hit by RPG-fire.

The soldiers were on their way to do bomb disposal work on 23 March 2003 when they were ambushed by black-clad, rifle-wielding men.

L/Cpl Law, travelling in the rear Land Rover, told the court how both vehicles accelerated after taking fire, but the front vehicle was hit by an RPG.

Black smoke

He said: "In that kind of situation to get out to shoot is a pretty bad idea. You just want to try and get out of the area as quickly as you can.

"I didn't see where the RPG came from but there was an explosion, a dust cloud and black smoke just went up."

The soldier's rifle jammed and his colleague L/Cpl Marcus Clarke's weapon was damaged during the firefight.

L/Cpl Clarke, wounded in the shoulder, said their vehicle attempted to keep up, but it was soon clear they were being ambushed.

"The road then disappeared in a cloud of smoke. We drove into smoke and I was then facing the front of their Land Rover.

"They were going up the road backwards, off to the right. I thought I was going to hit them and swerved around. We continued and got 15 metres past the first vehicle when we were also hit by RPGs, which spun us round and we crashed."

Continuous fire

As the insurgents charged L/Cpl Law and L/Cpl Clarke ran to cover in a nearby compound and could hear Sgt Cullingworth shouting.

L/Cpl Clarke told the court he later heard continuous fire from a British SA80 rifle, unusual as soldiers are instructed to use short controlled bursts.

Sapper Allsopp, from North London, and Sgt Cullingworth, from Essex, were both in the 33 (EOD) Engineer Regiment - a specialist bomb disposal unit of the Royal Engineers.

The BBC Governors subsequently ruled against the corporation after footage was shown of the men's bodies in a programme on al-Jazeera.

The inquest was adjourned until Monday.

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