Aaron inquest: ‘Friendly fire’ verdict welcomed

THE family of a soldier killed in a “friendly-fire” attack in Afghanistan said they are pleased after a coroner at his inquest vowed to recommend changes to Army procedures to prevent such a tragedy recurring.

The inquest into the death of Private Aaron McClure, of Ipswich, who was one of three British soldiers killed by a 500lb bomb dropped by a US aircraft, was held yesterday.

Private McClure, 19, along with Ptes Robert Foster, 19, from Harlow, Essex, and John Thrumble, 21, from Maldon, were under intense fire in Afghanistan’s Helmand province when a US F-15 aircraft which was called in to help dropped the bomb on them instead of a Taliban position half a mile further north.

The inquest, in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, had previously heard grid co-ordinates communicated between air controller Sergeant Mark Perren and an American weapons officer “did not marry up” before the bomb was dropped.

The three soldiers of B-Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, died in the blast on August 23, 2007.

After recording a narrative verdict, coroner David Masters said he wanted to make several recommendations to the Ministry of Defence to prevent such a tragedy happening again.

After the inquest Allan McClure, the uncle of Mr McClure, said: “We’re happy with the inquest verdict and the fact that the coroner would be personally speaking to the Government.

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“Hopefully lessons will be learnt so that no other family has to go through what we’ve been through in the last three years.

“But there is nothing that can be done to bring Aaron back. We’ve got to live to with what happened for the rest of our lives.”

Mr McClure added that he felt let down by the government for not doing more to get the American authorities involved with the inquest.

Summing up at the inquest, Mr Masters said he would want a review of existing “second man” procedures when checking grid references.

He said this would be with “particular reference to the monitoring and checking of potential misidentification of targets and friendly forces”. The inquest heard how Sgt Perren passed on an incorrect grid reference to the Weapons Support Officer aboard the US aircraft. Sgt Perren was investigated but no charges were brought against him.

Mr Masters said he would recommend a review of the steps taken to assess the continuing competency of soldiers following incidents where multiple deaths have occurred.

Following the inquest, the families of the three soldiers released a joint statement.

It read: “Today sees the end of a heartbreaking journey that began for us all on August 23, 2007, when we heard that we had lost our darling sons, John Thrumble, Aaron McClure and Robert Foster.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank 1st Battalion, Royal Anglian Regiment, for their unwavering support, in particular Captain Ian Robinson, Sergeant-Major Dave Riley and Major Chelsea Hall.

“Our thanks also go to our legal team and the coroner for their outstanding professionalism.

“It goes without saying that our love and thanks go to our families and friends for always being there for us.

“Finally, although this is end of the inquest, there will never be closure or a return to the way things were for us as families or for Corporal Stuart Parker and Pte Josh Lee, who will also live forever with the effects of this incident.

“Our pride in our sons knows no bounds.”