No charges over 'friendly fire' deaths

THE RELATIVES of three soldiers who were killed in a “friendly fire” incident have welcomed news that a British air controller will not face a court martial.

THE RELATIVES of three soldiers who were killed in a “friendly fire” incident have welcomed news that a British air controller will not face a court martial.

Privates Aaron McClure, 19, from Ipswich, John Thrumble, 21, from Maldon, and Robert Foster, 19, from Harlow, Essex, were killed when an F-15 jet dropped a 500lb bomb on them while trying to end a Taliban ambush of 60 soldiers.

The finger of blame initially pointed at the US Air Force, then equipment failures. But a 12-month Army inquiry resulted in the British sergeant, a forward air controller, being charged with failing to perform a duty.

The officer was warned he faced manslaughter charges for gross negligence.

But now the Army Prosecuting Authority has revealed it is not going ahead with a court martial because there is “no realistic possibility” of a successful prosecution.

Last night the families of the young soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment, based in Colchester, have said the blame for the blunder should never have been put on one man's shoulders.

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The uncle of Pte McClure, Allan McClure, from Roundwood Road, Ipswich, said the air traffic controller shouldn't be punished because it will live on his conscience for the rest of his life.

However he added: “Saying that, accidents like this should not be happening in this day and age.

“There should be a system put in place to prevent things like this. We are in the 21st century and if the technology is there, why can't we use it?

“The only positive thing is that the board of enquiry can now carry on with what they have got to process for the inquest.

“This boy is going to have this on his conscience for the rest of his life.”

His sentiments were echoed by the father of Pte Thrumble, Steve Thrumble.

He said: “We have always been of the view that when you take into account this plane was carrying a 500lb bomb into a war zone.

“To put the full responsibility on one guy on the ground is wholly wrong.

“When you take a human being they are defective, they make mistakes, and make them quite regularly, so you can't leave one man to make a decision.

“I spoke to [Robert's mum] Lisa Foster and I know she has mixed feelings but we feel one man shouldn't be held responsible for the death of our sons.

“There are enough people already suffering because of this incident, our loss is there for life.

“But to drag somebody else down doesn't make sense. For what reason?”

The 48-year-old from Mayland, near Maldon, said he felt sorry for the air traffic controller responsible.

He said: “The guy knows he has made a mistake, he has admitted it and he has to live his life knowing that and that's going to be hard enough.

“If I ever get the opportunity to meet him, I want to tell him my wife and I don't hold any grudge at all.

“He didn't have someone backing him up. My son was a machine gunner and his main job was covering for his mates, looking out for their backs.

“The forward air controller had no-one covering his back. We have just learned he was actually taking direct fire at the time, he was being fired upon, he was under pressure.

“More than one person should be checking the co-ordinates. Everyone concerned at the army should take a few steps back and understand what went wrong.

“If the blame hangs on one man, everyone can walk away and say the system's perfect, one man failed, he made a mistake. The system needs to change.”

Mr Thrumble, who lives with wife Pearl, 43, and son Luke said the Ministry of Defence had not consulted them on the decision.

He said: “We haven't been consulted directly. But I think that if they had done, the view would still be the same.”

Former firefighter John Foster, 49, from Harlow, and father of the third solider who lost his life in the “friendly fire” incident also agreed that the best decision had been made.

“There is nothing anyone can do for Robbie now. Why does another life have to be ruined? He is already suffering, why make it worse, he knows he made a mistake.” He said.

The soldiers were patrolling the north west of Kajaki in northern Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, with 7 Platoon B Company (Suffolk) of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.

They came under fire from Taliban fighters at about 6.30pm local time. Air support was requested from two US F-15 aircraft.

A spokesman for the Army Prosecuting Authority said: "Because of the serious nature of the allegations and the tragic consequences, the APA sought the opinion of Queen's Counsel.

“After careful consideration of the available evidence, the prevailing battle conditions and counsel's opinion, the APA has concluded there is no realistic prospect of conviction on any charge and additionally, the circumstances of the incident are such that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute.

“The next of kin of the deceased soldiers, the injured soldiers and the sergeant have all been informed."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman added: “Consideration is being given as to whether internal administrative action is appropriate.”

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