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A 'total hero' is honoured by crowds; Chris Roney is repatriated.

Byline: James Woodward

FOOTBALL fans wore strips and unfurled a Union flag yesterday to honour a soldier killed in a suspected friendly fire incident in Afghanistan.

Hundreds braved torrential rain on the streets of Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, for the repatriation of three fallen men - including passionate Sunderland fan Lance Corporal Chris Roney.

L/Cpl Roney, 23, of 3rd Battalion the Rifles, died on December 22, of wounds received the previous day in Sangin, Northern Helmand, Afghanistan.

His platoon was working out of Patrol Base Almas, providing "security, reassurance and freedom of movement" for the local population in support of the Afghan government.

His death is being investigated as a possible "friendly fire" incident - as is that of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, 22, who was also repatriated yesterday.

A group of friends and relatives made the long journey from the North East to honour L/Cpl Roney, a husband and father. The bright stripes of their kit brought colour to the grey, rainy skies as they stood proudly holding the flag by the town's war memorial.

Michael Haddock, 39, from Sunderland, said: "He was my niece's husband. He was a total hero."

Friend Lea Cole, 35, said: "I'm so proud of him and everything he stood for."

Neither wanted to discuss the possible causes of L/Cpl Roney's death saying it was a day to remember the soldiers.

Former mayor of Wootton Bassett Chris Wannell said of the possible friendly fire incidents: "Unfortunately these things do happen in war and always have. I feel very very sorry about that and I expect the poor guys who did it feel absolutely terrible."

L/Cpl Roney's family, including wife Lorna, said in a statement at the time of his death: "Born a legend, died a hero. Loved always and sadly missed by his son William (5 months), wife Lorna and family.

We're all so proud of you."

L/Cpl Pritchard, 22, of the 4th Regiment, Royal Military Police, was killed on December 20 in Sangin by small arms fire.

Supporters watched his cortege pass through the town's High Street as an inquiry probes the possibility that he too may not have died at enemy hands.

His friend Lance Corporal Simon Jackson, 21, from Telford, Shropshire, held a flower at the roadside. L/Cpl Jackson said: "He was my mate. I'm very proud of him. He was a top lad and always there for you."

An MoD spokesman said of L/Cpl Pritchard, of Eastbourne, Sussex: "The possibility that he died as a result of friendly fire is being investigated in Afghanistan but no firm conclusion will be reached until the coroner's inquest."

The body of Tommy Brown, of the Parachute Regiment, was the third on the plane which landed at RAF Lyneham, in Wiltshire this morning.

A private ceremony was to be held at the base's chapel before the cortege travelled through the town of Wootton Bassett.

L/Cpl Brown became the fourth British fatality in four days when he was killed in Afghanistan on December 22.

He was hit by a suspected Improvised Explosive Device (IED) while on a foot patrol in central Helmand.

Friend Lisa Ingham, 34, had come from RAF St Athan, in Vale of Glamorgan, Wales, to pay tribute to him.

She said: "Tommy always had a smile. I'm very proud that so many people are here today - especially the older guys. People travelled far and wide."

No further details - including his age and address - have been released.

It is understood that L/Cpl Brown belonged to the Special Forces Support Group, which was formed in April 2006 to assist the SAS and Special Boat Service on operations.


HERO The repatriation ceremony for L/Cpl Christopher Roney from Sunderland, inset, who died in a suspected 'friendly fire' incident.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 30, 2009
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