Page last updated at 17:35 GMT, Friday, 30 April 2010 18:35 UK

Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and colleague unlawfully killed

Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and Joshua Hammond
Lt Col Thorneloe (left) and Trooper Hammond died in an explosion in 2009

The most senior Army officer to die in Afghanistan and another soldier were unlawfully killed, a coroner has ruled.

Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and trooper Joshua Hammond, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, were killed in an explosion in Helmand province on 1 July 2009.

Lt Col Thorneloe had taken the "top cover" sentry position in a Viking armoured vehicle to "inspire" his men.

His father, Maj John Thorneloe, said his son's death had led to troops in Afghanistan being better equipped.

At the inquest into both their deaths at Wiltshire Coroner's Court, sitting at Trowbridge Town Hall, Dr Nicholas Hunt, a Home Office forensic pathologist, recorded the cause of death as blast injuries caused by an explosion.

Maj John Thorneloe: "At least the armed forces were better equipped as a result (of my son's death)"

An investigation showed the explosion was caused by a 20kg, pressure-plate bomb, the inquest heard.

Both men were travelling in a Viking armoured vehicle. Following their deaths, public questions were raised about the Viking's vulnerability.

After the inquest Lt Col Thorneloe's father said "the one good thing" that might have come out of his son's death was it made the nation - and the government - realise wars had to be fought based on the "worst case" and with "all the requisite equipment".

Maj Thorneloe also paid tribute to his son and thanked the Armed Forces - and particularly his son's regiment The Welsh Guards - for their "outstanding" support.

Coroner David Ridley said: "Both Lt Col Thorneloe and Trooper Hammond suffered fatal injuries as a result of an explosion, some 200 metres south of a crossing point in Helmand Province.

"While engaged in a routine patrol during an operation, that lead Viking vehicle struck a suspected improvised explosive device (IED), causing their deaths.

"Both Rupert and Joshua were evacuated but sadly it was clear nothing could be done for them."

Cpl Kevin Williams, of the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, survived the blast in the lead Viking, and was the first to attend to Lt Col Thorneloe, who lived in Aldershot, Hampshire. Trooper Hammond, 18, was from Plymouth.

Defence: machine gun and smoke grenade launcher
Engine: 5.9 litre Cummins turbo diesel
Tracks: rubber, allowing travel over soft terrain
Body: armoured steel with rounded edges to avoid radar detection
Cabin: air-conditioned with independent steering for front and rear units

Cpl Williams told the inquest that, on the day of the incident, Lt Col Thorneloe chose to take "top cover" position in the rear of the Viking, despite the role being handed to another soldier.

The coroner asked: "Was it Lt Col Thorneloe's decision to take top cover?"

Cpl Williams replied: "Yes. There was originally top cover tasked, however he told the guy to get down and he would take his place."

Sgt Peter Simmons, of the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, told the inquest Lt Col Thorneloe took the top sentry position to "inspire" the men and instil professionalism.

Caroline Wyatt
Caroline Wyatt, BBC defence correspondent

The deaths of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe and Trooper Joshua Hammond heightened the political row last summer over the number of helicopters in Helmand.

The deaths of the two men also raised public questions about the vulnerability of the Viking armoured vehicles, which were brought into service in Helmand in 2006.

By 2009, several had been killed in them, as the Taliban's roadside bombs grew bigger and penetrated the armour on the tracked vehicles.

Cpl Kevin Williams, who survived the blast, told the inquest the Viking they were travelling in had received an armour upgrade to its front section, but not to the rear cab - where the full force of the blast struck.

The Vikings did go on to receive an armour upgrade to the rear section.

They are being withdrawn from Helmand this year, to be replaced by a similar, upgraded vehicle called the Warthog.

Sgt Simmons said: "Lt Col Thorneloe was trying to inspire his men, which he was doing. Lt Col Thorneloe was professional, he wanted to get up there himself with his rifle."

The inquest also heard Lt Col Thorneloe had wanted more helicopters to support his troops.

Maj Andrew Speed, Lt Col Thorneloe's second-in-command at the time of the incident, told the inquest he knew of an e-mail from Lt Col Thorneloe to the MoD raising concerns about lack of helicopters in Afghanistan.

Maj Speed said: "He had his own mind. He was bright and intelligent and wanted to share his views with someone else outside Afghanistan."

But Maj Speed said he felt he had sufficient helicopter support to carry out his duties, and helicopters would not have been used on the fatal patrol.

Maj Speed added: "Like all good leaders, Col Rupert wanted to get on the ground. Any good leader wants to get a good feel for what his troops were doing. He was a hands-on guy.

"He wanted to demonstrate that, despite being a commanding officer, he wanted to show his troops he was prepared to do what they were doing, and by showing them that they can be inspired."

Asked if the Viking was a good vehicle, Cpl Williams replied: "Yes, if used correctly."

Cpl Williams said the Viking had received an armour upgrade to its front section but not to the rear cab - where the blast struck.

The inquest heard the Vikings would later receive an armour upgrade to their rear section.

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