Page last updated at 13:34 GMT, Wednesday, 10 September 2008 14:34 UK

Two years for soldier's shooting

Rifleman Edward Vakabua
Rifleman Edward Vakabua died at the British base in Basra Palace

A British soldier who shot dead a colleague while "playing" with a rifle in Iraq in 2007 has been sentenced to two years in an Army detention centre.

Aaron Kendrick, 20, of Fourth Battalion The Rifles, based in Warminster, Wilts, was found guilty of manslaughter over the shooting in a bunk room in Basra.

Kendrick told the court martial he had not been trained to use the weapon and had thought it was broken and unloaded.

His friend, Edward Vakabua, a 23-year-old Fijian, died instantly.

The bullet struck Rifleman Vakabua, known as "Vaka", from Suva, Fiji, as he lay on his bed.

Last Wednesday, a board of five Army officers - the military equivalent of a jury - took two hours to find Kendrick guilty.

'Mucking about'

Sentencing him, Judge Advocate Jack Bayliss said Kendrick would serve 16 months at the military detention centre at Colchester - known as the "Glass House".

The judge said the board had decided not to dismiss him from the Army and it would be for his commanding officer to decide whether his services would be retained when his sentence was completed.

I am ashamed that my handling of the weapon resulted in Edward's death and I will carry that responsibility for the rest of my life
Aaron Kendrick

"Your most culpable act was to point the weapon at another soldier lying in his bunk and pulling the trigger," he said.

"You were taught that you never point a weapon at anyone in jest or in the course of mucking about.

"It was dangerous and reckless and an act which has cost another young man his life, devastated two families and lost the Army a good young soldier."

But he said he had shown remorse that was "deep, real and very evident" and the two-year sentence was imposed because it was the maximum that could be spent in military custody - sparing Kendrick from civilian jail.

'Full responsibility'

After sentencing, Kendrick - who joined the Army in 2005 and was awarded the Iraq medal - released a statement through his solicitor.

At no stage did he try to deflect blame and he assumed full responsibility for his actions and the consequences of it
Colonel Patrick Sanders, commanding officer

"I have always accepted that I was responsible for the appalling consequences and I have to live with the memories of that incident and the aftermath," he said.

"I am ashamed that my handling of the weapon resulted in Edward's death and I will carry that responsibility for the rest of my life."

The court heard a statement from Colonel Patrick Sanders, commanding officer of Fourth Battalion The Rifles, in which he said Kendrick had shown "deep remorse, guilt and shame" over the incident.

"His reaction at the scene and his subsequent behaviour and demeanour suggested to me that he was and remained appalled at being responsible for the death of a fellow Rifleman and friend," he said.

"At no stage did he try to deflect blame and he assumed full responsibility for his actions and the consequences of it."

'Genuinely remorseful'

Col Sanders told the court that after returning to Britain, Kendrick had met Rifleman Vakabua's mother when she flew in from Fiji. She was in court to hear the sentencing but did not want to comment.

"She in turn showed extraordinary Christian spirit and embraced him and forgave him," added Col Sanders.

"She said, and I believe, that she would not have been able to forgive him had she not believed that he was genuinely remorseful and that he fully understood the appalling consequences of his actions."

Kendrick, whose home address was not disclosed by the Ministry of Defence, had admitted negligently discharging an L96 sniper rifle on 6 July 2007 but had denied manslaughter.

He told the court: "I squeezed the trigger and there was a bang. I dropped the weapon. I remember running up to Rifleman Vakabua and that's as far as I remember."

The weapon belonged to a sniper who had left the room.

Two snipers, both lance corporals, were later fined 850 for leaving loaded weapons indoors, contrary to orders.




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