Friendly fire death preventable, family says

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The family of a British soldier killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan have called on the Ministry of Defence to take responsibility for his “preventable” death.

Sapper Mark Antony Smith, 26, from Swanley, Kent, died in the Sangin area of Helmand province on July 26 2010 after a smoke screen shell fell 264 metres short of its target.

His inquest in Gravesend, Kent, heard that the investigation into what went wrong had been “hampered” by missing evidence and incomplete documentation.

Coroner Roger Hatch said the investigation had been “unsatisfactory” and added that in his view there should be a statutory inquiry into the matter.

Speaking after the inquest, the soldier’s mother, Helen, said: “We believe that Mark’s death was preventable.

“The evidence shows that a broken weather computer and use of incorrect data from earlier in the day resulted in Mark’s death.

“This is compounded by the fact that the investigation was flawed.

“Key evidence has gone missing and has never been returned to the UK.

“We will probably never know if the ammunition failed on that fateful day.

“We do not blame the soldiers involved in the operation for whom we have the utmost admiration.

“However, we believe the Ministry of Defence needs to take responsibility for this so as to avoid further deaths.”

Sapper Smith’s death was recorded as having been “in the course of active service when a smoke shell fell short”.

There was no one factor which caused the shortfall, but a “number of possibilities or combination of factors”, the coroner said.

Sapper Smith, was serving with the Counter Improvised Explosive Device taskforce when he was caught in the blast.

He was taking part in an action against the Taliban in an area described as “highly dangerous due to insurgent activity”.

A smoke screen was requested to allow the troops to advance towards enemy positions and smoke shells were fired from a 105mm gun.

In the morning, one smoke shell fell more than 450 metres from its target, hitting a compound where no one was injured. Later that afternoon, a second smoke 
shell intended to allow the soldiers to fell trees hit a second compound where Sapper Smith was resting.

He was killed instantly and two others were injured.

Captain Douglas Brain, who
was with Sapper Smith at the
time of the incident, paid 
tribute to “a man who truly lived life to the full, with an unrivalled wit and a wicked sense of humour”.

Sapper Smith served with 36 Engineer Regiment, based in Maidstone.