Page last updated at 08:22 GMT, Monday, 24 May 2010 09:22 UK

Top army bomb squad officer Col Bob Seddon resigns

Col Bob Seddon speaks to Christina Schmid

The Army's top bomb disposal officer has resigned, the MoD has said.

The BBC understands from Army sources that Colonel Bob Seddon, of the Royal Logistic Corps, quit over fears bomb disposal training could be compromised.

There has been pressure on the Army to produce more bomb-disposal experts quickly as a result of the threat of roadside bombs in Afghanistan.

An Army spokesman said it "remains committed to the counter improvised explosive device (IED) effort".

Soldier 'shortage'

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the resignation may have been partly motivated by fears that pressures within the Army to do more to fight the threat from roadside bombs could lead to soldiers being sent to the front line with less training.

There has been intense pressure on the Army to produce more counter-IED operatives to tackle the threat faster in Afghanistan

Caroline Wyatt
BBC defence correspondent

In an interview with the BBC's Panorama, Col Seddon, who held the post of principal ammunition technical officer, said he was concerned about the impact on his team of a shortage of soldiers trained to defuse homemade explosives.

He also said he was worried about the length of tours and the lack of rest for his elite unit.

He was interviewed for the programme by Christina Schmid, the widow of Staff Sergeant Oz Schmid, who was killed in Afghanistan in October 2009.

Col Seddon, who won a Queen's Commendation for Bravery in Iraq in 2006, said: "I'm very concerned that in the longer term that some of my people who have done phenomenally difficult and dangerous work in Afghanistan may pay a deeper psychological price for the work that they've conducted."

'Indiscriminate threat'

He said measures are in place to bring in more explosives experts but it takes at least six years to fully train a specialist operator, meaning the pressure on existing units is not easily abated.

"It means the existing cohort are going to be under pressure," he said.

Col Seddon
Col Seddon said it takes six years to fully train a specialist operator

Two of the most experienced men in 11 EOD Regiment, which is based in Didcot, Oxfordshire, died during its last tour of Helmand - Staff Sgt Schmid and Captain Dan Read.

Staff Sgt Schmid's widow said her late husband had found the job in Afghanistan "physically and mentally relentless" and the "less tangible" factors like fatigue needed to be looked at again.

"These pinch point trades - these specialist trades - are under considerable pressure and if we are out there decade in, decade out... we need to double-check we are doing everything we can to ensure they are the safest they can be," she said.

There's a tremendous sense of vulnerability… you're considering where they may have placed a second device and whether a sniper has you in his cross-hairs… you've got to think about all these possibilities
Maj Chris Hunter
Bomb disposal specialist

The Ministry of Defence said steps are being taken to recruit more soldiers to the job.

The Army has begun to offer £50,000 payments to top bomb disposal soldiers willing to sign on for another tour of duty in Afghanistan in a bid to ease the pressure on the units already deployed.

In a statement to the BBC, the MoD admitted guidelines for rest periods and the length of tours had been broken in Afghanistan.

"Unfortunately at a time of high operational commitment, breaches of harmony guidelines do occur but we are taking steps to address the situation."

New defence secretary Liam Fox, who visited Afghanistan this weekend, said he would make sure everything possible was done to ensure that British forces had what they needed to deal with the "indiscriminate threat from IEDs".

Panorama: A Very British Hero, BBC One, Monday 24 May at 2030 BST

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