Page last updated at 20:00 GMT, Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Afghanistan inquest says bomb training 'inadequate'

(Clockwise from top left) Cpl Sarah Bryant, Cpl Sean Robert Reeve, L/Cpl Richard Larkin, Private Paul Stout
The four were killed in a Snatch Land Rover in 2008

The coroner at an inquest into the death of four British soldiers in a blast in Afghanistan has pointed to "inadequacies" in their bomb training.

Coroner David Masters said the deaths highlighted the problems of the Snatch Land Rover in which they died in 2008.

Verdicts of unlawful killing were recorded for Cpl Sarah Bryant and SAS reservists Cpl Sean Reeve, L/Cpl Richard Larkin and Pte Paul Stout.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell said "serious questions" had been raised.

Cpl Bryant is the only British female soldier to have died in Afghanistan.

Her parents said they did not want the issues raised in the inquest to detract from her "bravery, dedication and selflessness".

Mr Masters, coroner for Swindon and Wiltshire, said he was planning to write to the MoD regarding the issues raised at the inquest.

Equipment shortages

The inquest at Trowbridge Town Hall heard soldiers had not been shown how to use metal detectors in the UK because of an equipment shortage.

The troops were forced to ask an expert on base in Afghanistan to pass on his knowledge.

Mr Masters said: "In my judgment there was an inadequacy in training for this unit and its members."

Witnesses said an Ebex metal detector had become available only four months into the deployment. Before then the soldiers had to scan the ground for improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Maureen Feely: "Our wonderful Sarah was a hero...we are so proud of her"

Mr Masters said: "There was a theatre-wide shortage of that piece of vital equipment."

The soldiers died after the back wheel of their Land Rover hit a 50kg to 100kg (110lb-220lb) pressure-plated roadside bomb as they crossed a ditch.

Post-mortem examinations showed that L/Cpl Larkin, from Kidderminster, Worcs, died of injuries to the chest and abdomen following an explosion.

Cpl Bryant, from Chicksands, Bedfordshire, Cpl Reeve, from Brighton, and Pte Stout, from Liverpool, died of blast wounds caused by an explosion.

The inquest heard that the soldiers' commander had requested a replacement for their Snatch Land Rover but was refused because of equipment shortages.

The vehicles could not cover soft ground and became stuck in a little water, which restricted the unit to driving along dangerous tracks.

"There was significant disquiet about these vehicles being the only resource available to this unit for a variety of reasons," Mr Masters said.

He said his report to the MoD would seek a review on the use of Snatch Land Rovers by such a specialist unit.

At least 37 UK soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan while travelling in the lightly armoured vehicle, whose vulnerability to roadside bombs and other explosives has led some soldiers to call it the "mobile coffin".

'Died with honour'

Cpl Bryant's mother, Maureen Feely, reading a statement after the inquest, said: "We understand why Sarah has received so much media attention but this is something she would've hated.

"She would not have wished to be treated any differently from any other of her colleagues. She was a soldier who died with honour."

Adam Wilson, solicitor for the families of Cpl Reeve and L/Cpl Larkin, said: "We hope that the lack of resources and shortcomings in training and planning which have been exposed in the evidence we have heard will not be repeated.

Armed Forces Minister Bill Rammell: "We will respond to both the coroner and the families"

"We hope that the MoD will heed the recommendations of the coroner and that by reason of the changes they make no other families will have to stand in the position in which we stand today."

Speaking after the verdict, Col Graham Le Fevre read a statement on behalf of the Army.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to the families of these four soldiers who lost their lives while serving their country in Afghanistan," he said.

"As the tributes at the time said, all four soldiers were immensely professional and were dedicated to serving in the armed forces and on operations in Afghanistan."

'Efforts transformed'

Mr Rammell said the MoD had made "huge changes" to the way in which personnel were trained and equipped.

"Since 2006 we have spent £1.7bn on 1,800 new and better-equipped vehicles and our efforts to counter IEDs have been transformed.

"Nevertheless it is clear that the training provided at this time could have been better and we will look again at this issue, in light of the coroner's comments, to see what more we can do."

He added: "In respect of Snatch, commanders need a variety of vehicles and we cannot always put our people in those that are most heavily armoured as these vehicles have restricted manoeuvrability and are not able to drive across the most difficult of terrain."

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the prime minister had further questions to answer about the use of Snatch Land Rovers, following his evidence at the Chilcot inquiry.

"We know from the verdict today that the commander in question actually asked for a replacement to the Snatch Land Rover that he had and was told this was not possible due to a lack of equipment," he said.

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