Father's call over friendly fire
The father of a young soldier who was accidentally shot dead by a comrade while on active service in Afghanistan has called for "lessons to be learned" from the tragedy.
Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, 22, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, was killed by gunfire from a remote observation post fired by sniper Lance Corporal Malcolm Graham, of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, who thought he was shooting at Taliban insurgents, an inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall was told.
L/Cpl Pritchard, who was on secondment with 4th Battalion The Rifles, was deployed to the observation post N30 on December 20, 2009 to watch a blind spot on an access road, Route 611, in the Sangin area, central Helmand province, to make sure insurgents did not plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the road, the inquest was told.
East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze recorded a verdict of accidental death and said a number of factors including poor communication had played a part but that the basic reason for the tragedy was the failure of the organisation which would have prevented 'blue on blue' contact.
Speaking outside court, L/Cpl Pritchard's father Gary said: "We hope and trust that the Army will take steps to ensure that this does not happen again."
Mr Craze said that despite erroneous decisions being made L/Cpl Pritchard's death was an accident, albeit an avoidable one.
He said: "I am inclined to the view that there were no insurgents there at all. If that is the case how did this fatal misunderstanding come about?"
He said the circumstances the soldiers had found themselves in were not calm or rational and that they were tired and facing heightened vulnerability.
He said: "There was an overriding sense that they had arrived in a hornets' nest in a war zone and that they had to win. So although there was no gung-ho or snap happy attitude they were there to engage insurgents."
He said it would never be known if messages were sent and not received but that everything of importance had eventually filtered through so he could not blame the tragedy entirely on a communications failure. Mr Craze said an inadequate briefings system and lack of understanding about where the restricted firing line was had exacerbated the situation.