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Marine died shielding comrades; Soldier paid price for his bravery.

Byline: James Woodward

THE "huge bravery" of a North East Royal Marine who was fatally wounded in a rooftop gunfight while giving covering fire to his comrades was hailed by a coroner yesterday.

Marine Tony Evans, 20, and his colleague Georgie Sparks, 19, of J Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, were trying to take a suspected weapons factory when they engaged more than 40 Taliban fighters last November.

The pair were part of an intelligence mission to capture the store to the north-west of Lashkar Gah, dubbed "Compound Crunchie", and to uncover makeshift explosives and arms stashes.

To repel the attack, Marine Evans, from Sunderland, and Marine Sparks, a sniper from Epping, Essex, got on to a roof with two comrades to cover embattled 11 platoon on the ground.

But during the onslaught a grenade struck the corner of the building and split the "selfless" pair apart, throwing Marine Evans to the ground.

Marines Adam Knight and David Wotherspoon, who were also on top of the compound, remained under "effective fire" from the enemy as did their corporal, Jonathan Prideaux, who rushed to help.

Cpl Prideaux said yesterday: "I looked up and there was something that caught my eye, fast moving. Something detonated in between Georgie and Tony. Straight away I was up the ladder and running towards them. From the point of impact to getting to Georgie was really four seconds max."

His injuries were rated as 9/10, or "very severe".

"I stopped firing, grabbed his legs and we then carried him to the corner of the roof and down the ladder," said Cpl Prideaux. "While carrying him I became fully aware of the extent of his injuries - I looked into his eyes and as far as I was concerned he was dead. We give first aid irrespectively - we are not doctors and we do what we are trained to do."

Marine Evans was found outside and was brought to cover with fire still raining down.

Despite getting medical attention while the heavy gunfire continued, they were moved to a secure location before being put on a helicopter to be transferred back to Camp Bastion.

The inquest heard the helicopter arrived in less than 48 minutes.

Both men died from their injuries during the flight. A post-mortem examination revealed that despite their Osprey body armour, Marine Sparks died of unsurvivable blast wounds and Marine Evans of internal injuries.

Swindon and Wiltshire Coroner David Ridley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing after hearing that the men's killers would be charged with murder if ever caught.

Paying tribute to the dead men, he said: "What amazes me in doing these inquests is the bravery. The covering fire they were giving was effective, which made them a target. That has to involve a huge amount of bravery, and that includes his colleagues who gave as much assistance as they could to Tony and Georgie once they were injured. I want to recognise that."

He added: "This was an area of high enemy forces activity. In relation to those patrols, 90% of the time they would engage enemy forces."

After Marine Evans' death last year his parents, Tony Evans and Julia Churchill, said: "Tony was the type of person who would do anything to help his friends and family, and was well respected by all. The Royal Marines was his life since the age of 13 when he became a Royal Marines cadet. We, his family, are very proud of what he achieved and will miss him dearly."

CAPTION(S):

HERO Marine Tony Evans.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Aug 8, 2009
Words:592
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