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RAF Iraq base deaths 'unlawful'

15 September 08 14:37 GMT

Three RAF servicemen were killed in Iraq when their accommodation huts were hit by a rocket, an inquest has heard.

The enemy device was identified by a computerised defence system but it failed to divert its path sufficiently, the Wiltshire Coroner was told.

Senior Aircraftsmen Matthew Caulwell, 22, Peter McFerran, 24, and Christopher Dunsmore, 29, died in the blast.

The attack on the Basra airport base in July 2007 injured 15 others. Unlawful killing verdicts were recorded.

The base was being attacked by indirect fire four to six times a day at the time of the deaths, the coroner was told.

Mr Caulwell, of Birmingham, and Mr McFerran, of Flintshire, were both in 1 Squadron RAF Regiment.

Mr Dunsmore, of Leicester, was in 504 Squadron Royal Auxiliary Air Force Regiment.

'Utter devastation'

Sergeant Robert Williams, who survived the attacks on the hut at Catterick Lines on the base said: "I heard a whoosh, then a bright light engulfed my room."

He said he blacked out, then saw a scene of "utter devastation," with some of his injured colleagues lying in the bent and twisted metal.

The base was being defended with a a Navy-designed anti-missile system which involved matrix of sensor-activated guns designed to intercept incoming fire.

Lieutenant Commander Alan Kerr, of the Royal Navy, was overseeing the system.

He said the rocket was identified by the system, called Phalanx, and an alarm, indicating 16 seconds until impact, was given on 19 July last year at 14:21 local time.

One of the system's automated guns fired to try and divert the incoming round from its predicted target.

But the rocket's flight path was not altered enough and landed in a different area of the accommodation area.

The officer said Phalanx was 75% successful, adding: "It is at the forefront of missile defence technology. There is nothing else in the world like it."

Lt Colonel Andrew Barr, commanding officer for force protection in Basra at the time, said: "I have spoken to all the experts and been told there was nothing that could have been done to save their lives. They were too close."

Wiltshire coroner David Masters, gave the cause of the deaths as blast wounds caused by an explosion.

He paid tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the men and their colleagues.

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