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Soldier's death was accidental.

The rocket launcher which crushed a soldier against a fork-lift truck was missing key parts, an inquest heard yesterday.

Lance Bombardier Robert Wilson, 29, from Gateshead, was trapped in between the two vehicles as he was about to dry himself off in the launcher's exhaust after a playful water fight with a colleague.

The launcher's driver L-Bmdr Benjamin Rook had revved up the vehicle's engine with the hand throttle ( when it was stationary but in gear ( causing it to lurch forward and hit L-Bmdr Wilson. The accident happened on May 1 last year at Albemarle [corr] Barracks, near Newcastle.

Martin Baillie, [corr] who carried out the health and safety inspection into the accident, said at the inquest in Newcastle yesterday that the vehicle L-Bmdr Rook was driving had parts missing on the gear stick and hand throttle

The gear stick had no knob on top of it, which made it more difficult to see, and there was no stop on the hand throttle, which meant there was nothing to prevent the driver revving up the launcher's engine to its maximum power.

Mr Baillie said: "The throttle stop was missing and of the 36 rocket launchers at the Albemarle Barracks, 16 were missing throttle stoppers. Also, the knob on the top of the gear stick was missing. It is easier to see and use the gear stick when there is a knob on top than when there isn't."

He added there were flaws in the training given to L-Bmdr Rook, who had been driving the launcher for less than three months and had not had to pass a formal test.

He said: "There was no evidence that he had been told if you pull the hand throttle up when it is in gear then it will shoot forward. But the dangers of that are known at regimental level.

"Also, I was shown the two different manuals, which are used for the machine, which give contrasting information about the stopping procedure. This has potential to lead to confusion in the way people are taught."

Coroner David Mitford said L-Bmdr Wilson had died from the multiple injuries he suffered as he was pinned against the grill of the fork-lift truck. He said: "Vehicles of this size when they collide do so with force and any individual caught in between is going to be hurt."

A nine-person jury concluded L-Bmdr Wilson's death was accidental and had been caused by a number of factors ( but they declined to name the factors individually.

Speaking after the inquest L-Bmdr Wilson's parents Alan and Cynthia, of Rectory Place, Bensham, Gateshead, praised the Army's professionalism and their concern. Mrs Wilson added: "My son lived for the Army. He was a brilliant boy. He had been in the Army for eight years and travelled all over the world for the job he loved."

Verdict: Accidental.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Dec 16, 2005
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