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'Army failed blast soldier' Helmand training range security fears weren't addressed, inquest told.

Byline: BEN MITCHELL

THE parents of a soldier who died in a bomb attack on an insecure training range have said their son was "utterly failed" by the Army as a coroner ruled that it failed to take action to prevent his death.

Lance Corporal James Hill, of the 1st Battalion The Coldstream Guards, died on the firing range 2.5 miles outside Camp Bastion in central Helmand, Afghanistan, on October 8, 2009. He was due to get married on his return from the war zone.

Surrey Coroner Richard Travers said the chain of command had not listened to concerns raised about the potential of insurgents targeting the range and had not provided sufficiently trained units to clear the site of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The inquest heard the firing range was "swamped" by locals scavenging for scrap metal after each session, providing insurgents with an opportunity to plant a bomb. The vast number of shell casings made it harder to detect IEDs - though the coroner said that a metal detector operator would have to have been "blind and deaf" not to detect a device with the high metal content of the bomb that killed L/Cpl Hill.

Speaking outside the Woking inquest, L/Cpl Hill's parents, of Red-Lance James hill, Surrey, said the Army failed in its duty of care for their son. In a statement released jointly with their son's fiance Anastasia Newman, they said: "James's death totally shattered our lives.

"It was not just those responsible for planting the IED that caused his death, but a culture of complacency and a disregard for every soldier's safety that reached right up the chain of command.

"Those in charge of his safety owed him a duty of care - a duty, we feel, they totally and utterly failed. A proper system of communicating up and down the chain of command could possibly have prevented this tragedy.

"James's life was irreplaceable and he meant the world to us."

Corporal Mr Travers added that within nine days of L/Cpl Hill's death, the Army had created a new firing range within the secure fence of Camp Bastion. He said this showed it had been within the powers of commanding officers to create a safe training environment.

He made a series of recommendations to the MoD to prevent a similar tragedy.

Recording a verdict that L/Cpl Hill was unlawfully killed whilst on active service in Afghanistan, Mr Travers passed on his condolences to the soldier's family.

Colour Sergeant Ryan Robinson, who was in charge of the firing range, told the inquest he raised concerns about the security of the area repeatedly: when he raised the issue again three days before L/Cpl Hill died, he was told he was "over-reacting".

An MoD spokesman said: "As a result of this tragic incident, immediate steps were taken to prevent any further risk from IEDs on the range. Since 2010, ranges have been located within the expanded perimeter of Camp Bastion."

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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 1, 2012
Words:502
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