Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Friday, 15 August 2008 16:09 UK

Afghanistan death 'friendly fire'

L/Cpl Mathew Ford
L/Cpl Ford's body was recovered in a daring helicopter mission

The death of a Royal Marine Commando in Afghanistan was likely to have been a so-called friendly fire incident, a Board of Inquiry report has said.

L/Cpl Mathew Ford, 30, of 45 Commando, died in an advance on a Taleban fort in Helmand on 15 January last year.

The report said it appeared the fatal shot had been fired from a British Viking armoured vehicle.

It was critical of the training given to the Lincolnshire-born commando's company before the advance on the fort.

Preparations had been sufficient for most aspects of the operation, it said, but "critically" not for the taking of the fort itself.

The Marines were operating in an environment "quite different for which they had trained", it added.

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Coverage at the time focused on the Marines who recovered L/Cpl Ford's body in a daring helicopter mission.

His colleagues had strapped themselves to the outside of two Apache helicopters and headed back to the scene.

The death took place during Operation Glacier 2, designed to maintain pressure on the Taleban during the winter months.

The report noted 3 Commando Brigade were originally due to be deployed in Iraq, and the change in destination in April 2006 had done "little to aid training preparation".

The operation began with about 200 Royal Marine Commandos crossing a river and getting out of their Viking armoured vehicles so they could approach the fort on foot.

L/Cpl Ford - a member of Z Company, based in Arbroath, Scotland - was shot in the head and chest during this initial assault.

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Footage of Royal Marine mission where L/Cpl Ford was killed

'Hurried' briefing

The Royal Navy Board of Inquiry report into his death said it was almost certain that L/Cpl Ford was killed by a shot from another British gunner.

But the actions were attributed to a "momentary error of judgment" and there was "no suggestion of negligence".

The actual cause of death will be determined by a coroner at an inquest.

The report said the soldier thought to have fired the shot which killed L/Cpl Ford had been given a "hurried" briefing.

The conduct of the brigade involved was exemplary... but that does not mean that we should not learn lessons from the tragic loss
Bob Ainsworth
Armed Forces Minister

"His actions were spontaneous on witnessing what he believed to be enemy fire," the report said.

Four other marines were injured and evacuated but confusion at the scene meant troops withdrew before they realised L/Cpl Ford was still missing.

But the report said it was likely the head wound would have killed him instantaneously.

Bullet fragments were found to be "more consistent" with a Nato round than a Taleban bullet.

L/Cpl Ford, 30, the eldest of three brothers, had been living in Dundee with fiancee Ina.

In a tribute, the Ministry of Defence said he had been thinking about leaving the service to settle down and start a family.

L/Cpl Ford's mother Joan, from Immingham, Lincolnshire, described her son as a "larger than life character who lived his life to the full".

"He was a wonderful son to me and brother to Thomas and Scott and was looking forward to his future," she said.

'Heat of battle'

The report's recommendations said training "must reflect operational reality" as well as the "most demanding scenarios".

The inability of the Viking crewmen to communicate with dismounted troops was the only equipment deficiency cited.

The Royal Navy said the recommendations of the report had all been addressed.

Maj Gen Jerry Thomas, commanding officer of 3 Commando Brigade at the time, said: "Although there was risk in mounting this offensive, the decision was made after a careful judgment, accepting that, while risk can be minimised, it can never be removed entirely."

Defence analyst Mike Dewar told the BBC mistakes were sometimes made in the heat of battle.

"However good the indoctrination and the in-theatre acclimatisation, and all the things that are done already, however good that is, we will always continue to get these sort of incidents," he said.

Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth acknowledged there were "issues" about preparation, but said the mission had seen "incredible acts of heroism, courage under fire and sacrifice".

"But that does not mean that we should not learn lessons from the tragic loss of L/Cpl Mathew Ford."




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