Fusilier Samuel Flint-Broughton, 21 from Poulton, and two of his comrades Corporal William Savage, 30, from Penicuik, Midlothian and Private Robert Hetherington, 25, from Edinburgh, died when an improvised explosive device (IED) tore through their heavily armoured Mastiff vehicle on April 30 last year in the Nahr-e-Saraj district of Afghanistan.
It was the first time after numerous attacks on Mastiff’s that someone had lost their life as a result of an attack on the vehicle.
The Inquest, heard at Oxfordshire Coroners Court in front of HM Coroner Mr Salter,
focussed on many aspects surrounding the incident:
• Intelligence known prior to the attack and any potential missed opportunities to avoid the incident;
• the safety of the vehicle design externally and several internal components;
• the condition of the vehicle at the time of the incident.
Mr Salter heard how the IED was buried under the road in a sophisticated tunnel built by insurgents and was triggered by a command wire running into a unoccupied compound, concealed behind a 10ft wall.
In giving evidence Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Swift, who was leading a battle group which included the men’s unit, B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, explained that there had been frequent ‘’hits’’ on the days leading up to the attack on a top secret experimental surveillance system designed to counter the IED threat. These ‘hits’ had displayed frequent and regular reports of digging or other such ground activity.
Although this intelligence was acted upon and further investigation had taken place, the ‘hits’ were eventually dismissed as a potential fault due to no signs of ground disturbance. Lieutenant Colonel Swift confirmed “We were looking for ground sign, perhaps an area of disturbed earth, and no ground sign was identified by any of these assets.” Tunnelling was something at the time was not generally thought to be an insurgent technique.
The Inquest heard that as a result of a similar IED strike in 2009 on the vehicle the rear doors had become warped and slightly flared, this was found to have had no impact of the structural integrity of the vehicle. The inquest was told there was no evidence to suggest the truck was unsafe at the time of the blast and that the loss of the doors during the explosion had not caused their deaths.
Further investigation into the internal seat mitigation system of the vehicle was heard as the fear was the seating system had failed due to the catastrophic nature of the injuries of the three men highlighted by the pathologists. But MOD expert Alan Hepper said subsequent investigations had shown the system did deploy correctly, adding that the force of the blast was so great it had simply overwhelmed the Mastiff’s safety systems.
Experts referred to the size of the explosion as a “blast overmatch” and that the three men were seated in the rear of the vehicle, which was nearest to the explosion.
The men were evacuated from the site in a helicopter to a military hospital at Camp Bastion, where they were pronounced dead.
Post-mortem examinations on all three men revealed there was nothing fellow soldiers or medical teams could have done to save them. The soldiers were rendered unconscious immediately and would have been unaware of what happened to them.
Senior coroner Darren Salter said: “Taking the evidence together, including the history of Mastiff vehicles in countless previous IED strikes, there is no significant evidence it did not provide the expected level of protection or that the occupants were made more vulnerable to the injuries they sustained because of the 2009 IED damage.”
Recording a verdict of “Unlawful killing whilst on active duty” the Coroner, Mr Salter also said he will produce a Regulation 28 letter (Prevention of Future Deaths report) on the identification and clearance of IED threats which will be forwarded to the Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon.
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