Bombs hidden in compound killed captain

AN ARMY captain only 25 years old was mortally wounded while on patrol with his men in Afghanistan by one of three separate improvised explosive devices hidden in a rural compound, an inquest has heard.

The Birmingham coroner was told Andrew Griffiths died in hospital in the UK almost two weeks after being caught in an explosion despite sweeps conducted by an Army sniffer dog.

He was airlifted back to Britain after suffering severe leg and pelvic injuries in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province while serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment on August 24 last year.

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Capt Griffiths, who was born in Richmond, North Yorkshire, was treated by soldiers at the scene of the blast and underwent surgery in Afghanistan, but died of his wounds at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham on September 5, 2010.

The officer’s inquest at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall was told he was leading a patrol to deter insurgents from attacking workers upgrading a key supply route between Gereshk and Lashkar Gah.

Major Paul Tingey, also of the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, told the hearing that contractors working to make the route suitable for heavy vehicles had been shot at and subjected to beatings by insurgents.

The patrol on which Capt Griffiths was fatally wounded deployed at midnight on August 22 last year and had come under attack, sustaining a separate fatality, as it moved between a number of compounds.

Maj Tingey told the inquest: “The aim was to establish ourselves in those compounds and move out to do patrols of the area and try to understand where the insurgents were operating from.”

When the scene of an explosion was reached on the morning of August 24 after a 10-hour patrol through the night, a “clearance drill” was conducted by Capt Griffiths’s men.

But the inquest was told that a large amount of metal debris littering the floor of the compound meant it was “impracticable” to use metal detectors.

No signs of ground disturbance were detected and a sniffer dog also found nothing suspicious.

Describing the moment of the IED strike, which occurred around 10 or 15 minutes after the compound was declared clear, Maj Tingey said: “My back was turned, a loud explosion occurred and lots of dust and debris was in the air.”

The major then saw a casualty lying about 10 metres away from the entrance to the compound.

Searches conducted after Capt Griffiths was airlifted to Camp Bastion discovered a second bomb and a third device was subsequently found by soldiers conducting a finger-tip search, Maj Tingey added.

The inquest heard the devices, one hidden inside a wall, were planted a considerable time before the explosion, making them difficult to spot.

Colonel Gareth Collett, of the Army’s explosive ordnance disposal unit, told Coroner Aidan Cotter the remaining devices had a low metal content and would not have been uncovered by a hand-held detector.

Col Collett said he believed the appropriate decisions had been taken by those on the ground, adding that the undetonated IEDs were only found after a specialist counter-IED team was sent to the compound.

In a statement issued through the Ministry of Defence shortly after Capt Griffiths’ death, his family said: “Andrew was a beloved son, brother and boyfriend who will be hugely missed for the joy he brought into our lives.

“We are immensely proud of him and all that he has achieved in his all too short a life. He died doing a job he loved and excelled at.”

The inquest was adjourned until today.

A soldier with the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, was shot dead in Afghanistan yesterday when his patrol was attacked by insurgents in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province, the Ministry of Defence said.

His family has been informed.