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Sole survivor of ambush tells of Iraq ordeal.

Byline: BY GRAHAM DAVIES

THE sole survivor of the Iraq ambush that killed Merseyside soldier Major Matthew Titchener spoke of his ordeal at the inquest into the death of his colleague yesterday.

Maj Titchener, 32, from Southport, was serving in Basra when insurgents opened fire on his vehicle at close range.

Yesterday's inquest also dealt with the deaths of Warrant Officer Colin Wall, 34, and Corporal Dewi Pritchard, 35, who were killed alongside him in the Nissan Pathfinder on August 23, 2003.

Cpl Richard Lay, 40, who was badly injured in the attack, told the inquest: "I heard gunfire but didn't know where it was coming from.

"When the glass came in, I shouted to Dewi (the driver) to put his foot down but I got no response at all."

Witnesses to the attack travelling in an Army Land Rover behind told how a group of men in a red Chevrolet flatbed truck had pulled up close to the car and opened fire with what appeared to be machine guns.

Maj Titchener, the commander of the 150 Provost Company operation, whose wife Raqual was expecting their second child, was shot several times, the inquest heard.

Cpl Pritchard, a father of two and a Territorial Army volunteer from Bridgend in Wales, also sustained multiple gunshot wounds and would have died almost instantly, Home Office pathologist Dr Ian Hill said.

Father-of-three WO Wall, from Crawleyside, County Durham, and the Company Sergeant Major of 150 Provost, was killed when the vehicle veered off the road across wasteland and crashed into the side of a house.

The four men were taking part in an operation to transport 200 AK47 assault rifles to Al Amariyah, near Baghdad.

Redcap Cpl Sarah Smallwood was driving the Land Rover laden with the weapons some metres behind the Nissan when she saw the attackers open fire.

Yesterday she broke down in tears as she told the inquest how she had to decide whether to help her colleagues or take the arms to safety.

Her radio was only connected to the vehicle in front and she had no way to call for help.

She said: "It was a split second decision. They disappeared in a cloud of dust. I was very conscious that I had a vehicle full of weapons, no communications and no back-up.

"The amount of people that were in that vehicle and the firepower that was seen led me to take the decision (to turn back to safety)."

Sergeant Brett Stanford, of the RMP's Special Investigations Branch, told the coroner that, while several Chevrolets in the area were stopped and searched after the incident, the culprits remained at large.

Coroner Nicholas Gardiner recorded verdicts of unlawful killing for all three men, saying the incident was "a tragedy for their families as well as those with whom they were working at that time".

He said: "By August 2003 the war in Iraq was over and so these could not be said to be deaths in a genuine combat situation.

"But there have been, as sadly we know, a number of deaths like this for a long time and indeed some are still occurring in that country.

"My personal sympathy goes to the families of these three men who did a service for their country."

Maj Titchener was the 62nd soldier to die in the Iraq conflict and left behind a son, Matheson, now four, and 18-month-old daughter Angel, who was born four months after his death

CAPTION(S):

Raqual Harper-Titchener with baby Angel; Major Matthew Titchener - died in a hail of bullets
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 12, 2005
Words:594
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