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Last Updated: Wednesday, 6 June 2007, 20:04 GMT 21:04 UK
Mother's soldier death questions
Lance Corporal Luke McCulloch
L/Cpl McCulloch served with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment
The mother of a soldier killed by Taleban mortar shrapnel in Afghanistan is asking an inquest why he was able to remove his helmet in a dangerous area.

L/Cpl Luke McCulloch, 21 - who was born in South Africa but lived in Gillingham, Kent - died on 6 September last year in Sangin Valley, Helmand.

He had taken off his protective gear to eat a meal at his army compound, which came under regular mortar fire.

A coroner said he would examine whether a helmet would have saved the soldier.

Died in hospital

Speaking before the start of an inquest in Oxford into L/Cpl McCulloch's death, his mother, Elaine McCulloch-Brandt, said: "I am here because I want to know why my son and his colleagues were not ordered to wear protective gear all the time.

"These men were out in the open, camping and under daily mortar attacks from the Taleban.

"Surely wearing body armour and helmets should have been compulsory."

The young soldier had come off sentry duty in temperatures of about 45C, and had undressed into shorts, flip-flops and possibly a T-shirt.

The inquest on Wednesday heard how the compound was coming under fire on a daily basis, and soldiers had learned to expect the attacks at certain times of day.

So the equipment they have is absolutely rubbish and our troops are in danger
Mrs McCulloch-Brandt

Colour Sgt Richard Spence told assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker that a mortar shell fell on the camp just seconds after he had ordered his men to put their protective gear back on.

L/Cpl McCulloch was gathering up his body armour and helmet when a piece of shrapnel struck him in the back of the head.

He died in hospital and his body was repatriated to the UK two days later.

Major David Jagger, a body armour expert, said a helmet would not have been able to stop the shard of shrapnel which lodged in L/Cpl McCulloch's head, because he was 10 metres away from the blast.

Reacting to the major during the hearing, Mrs McCulloch-Brandt said: "So the equipment they have is absolutely rubbish and our troops are in danger."

She asked him: "Do you tell them the truth about the equipment they are using?"

The major replied that the capabilities of the equipment were well-documented.

The hearing continues on Thursday.


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