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HANG YOUR HEADS IN SHAME FOR LETTING A HERO DIE; Coroner raps top brass.

Byline: By Nathan Reece

A CORONER yesterday blamed the death of a hero Scots soldier in Afghanistan on a lack of equipment and said those responsible "should hang their heads in shame".

A catalogue of serious failures contributed to the death of Corporal Mark Wright, 27, who was killed by a blast as a Chinook helicopter tried to rescue a platoon of Paras in a minefield, said Andrew Walker.

Recording a narrative verdict after a two-week inquest at Oxford Coroner's Court, he said the lack of resources "was simply about money".

He blamed the death and the injuries to six other soldiers - including three who lost limbs - on:

The lack of UK helicopters in Afghanistan fitted with a winch;

The downwash from the Chinook sent to the minefield;

The administrative delay in sending a suitable helicopter.

Mark, from Edinburgh, was awarded a George Cross for continuing to command the incident despite his serious injuries.

Troops from the Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion had been injured by explosions after a sniper strayed into the unmarked danger zone.

They requested a helicopter with a winch but, instead, a Chinook - which does not have one - was dispatched.

It was waved away for fear of causing further explosions as it tried to land.

But, as it lifted, the downwash caused a mine to explode, lethally wounding Mark with shrapnel, as he tried to help injured comrades.

Two US Blackhawk helicopters, with winches, were eventually sent to rescue the platoon - three-and-a-half hours after the first blast was reported in the region of Kajaki in Helmand Province in September 2006.

Mr Walker said: "That a brave soldier is lost in battle is always a matter of deep sadness but when that life is lost where it need not have been because of a lack of equipment and assets, those responsible should hang their heads in shame.

"This tragedy has its roots in the expectation that a small force of dedicated professional soldiers would be expected to extend the scope and number of their operations without the necessary support."

He said the lack of batteries for radios at observation posts, leaving soldiers having to resort to firing shots in the air to attract their colleagues, "simply beggars belief".

He described Mark as an "exceptional soldier" and one of the "rare breeds" who act with "unhesitating courage in the most desperate circumstances".

The coroner added: "This selfless courage forms part of a tradition within our armed forces and Cpl Wright will continue to be an inspiration for those who follow."

Commander of Joint Helicopter Command Rear Adm Tony Johnstone-Burt said he was "confident" there were sufficient resources for British forces to do their job and they had access to allies' helicopters.

He added all UK helicopters in Afghanistan now had winches but that it was too risky to send them in to pick up troops from minefields.

CAPTION(S):

TRIBUTE: Grieving Jem and Bob Wright, the parents of Mark, inset left; COURAGE: Mark
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Title Annotation:Leaders
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 18, 2008
Words:494
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