The family of a British construction worker murdered by his Islamist kidnappers just minutes after a joint UK and Nigerian rescue operation stormed their compound yesterday praised the soldiers who tried to save him and said the Government had been right to send them.
Quantity surveyor Chris McManus from Oldham was shot six times in a toilet as the special forces tried to save his life, but they were under AK-47 fire from the kidnappers at the compound in Nigeria’s north west city of Sokoto. His Italian colleague Franco Lamolinara was also killed.
His family said the seven UK special forces soldiers and the Nigerians had risked their lives to save him after nearly ten months of captivity at the hands of the extremists.
“We hoped until the end for a positive outcome as we are sure did Chris and Franco. They were always in a dangerous situation from the time of their kidnapping. However, the sequence of events, particularly over the last few days of their lives, played out in such a manner as to make it a hopeless one,” his mother Laura said. “We accept that the decisions reached and taken by the authorities were the only ones possible based on the information available.”
Wiltshire and Swindon coroner David Ridley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and said: “Chris died from the result of a devastating gunshot wound to the head.”
The hearing in Salisbury heard the soldiers stormed the building after intelligence in previous days told them that Mr McManus, 28, was there with Mr Lamolinara.
The go-ahead for the operation had been given by Cobra – the Government’s crisis committee – at 11.15am, just 45 minutes before it started – after a senior officer had reviewed the evidence and there were fears for the men’s safety.
The UK team had been sent to the area the previous day and burst through the compound front gates at midday local time on March 8 last year, senior investigating office detective chief inspector Grant Mallon said.
The soldiers were soon put under small arms fire and he said the weapon was an AK-47 because of its distinctive crack sound. The men killed at least one militant and then Mr Mallon said they heard further shots with the same distinctive crack in the north west area of the compound.
“Muffled gunshots were heard by the team in sector one in the north west corner of the compound. They were from a high calibre weapon. It seemed to them they were in a room and it was rapid shots.
“Two insurgents were then seen leaving the compound from the north on a ladder at 12.04,” the policeman said.
The soldiers then systematically went through the compound until they came to the north west end of the compound and found some tarpaulin obscuring a building.
The men saw single beds and a room with a barred window. They then went into another room with a single and double bed and saw a Manchester United football shirt similar to one Mr McManus had been wearing in videos released by his captors.
“They called out for Franco and Chris but received no reply,” Mr Mallon said. “To the right there was a metal door to a toilet and they noticed there were bullet holes to it and the team noticed there were 7.62mm munitions and cases on the floor.
“The door was partially open and when the soldiers looked inside they could see two white males on the floor and they immediately recognised them as Chris and Franco. Chris was lying to the left of the toilet. Both men had visible gunshot wounds. It appears they were killed fairly quickly into the engagement.
“A doctor was called forward. He examined Chris and Franco, and Chris was pronounced dead at 1.38pm local time.”
A post-mortem examination found that Mr McManus died from a single gunshot wound to the head from a 7.62mm round that killed him almost instantly, the hearing was told. He also suffered injuries to the left leg, the left arm and torso. Friendly fire was ruled out in the death because the rescue forces were using 5.56mm munitions.
The men had been kidnapped in May 2011. Before their execution three videos were released showing they were alive – the latest on February 23, 2012.