MoD gets blame over ‘rogue Afghan’ slaughter
Lawyers representing the families criticised the decision to allow the soldiers to live alongside members of the Afghan National Police (ANP), saying the MoD had placed them in “avoidable harm’s way” and that warning signs over their killer’s conduct had been missed. The families spoke after a ruling that the five men were unlawfully killed.
David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, recorded the verdict following a four-day inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire.
The troops were gunned down without warning on November 3, 2009, by an officer known only as Gulbuddin, alongside whom they had been living at an ANP checkpoint in Helmand Province.
Warrant Officer Class 1 Darren Chant, 40, Sergeant Matthew Telford, 37, and Guardsman Jimmy Major, 18, from the Grenadier Guards, died alongside Corporal Steven Boote, 22, and Corporal Nicholas Webster-Smith, 24, from the Royal Military Police.
Mark Fielding, the solicitor for the families of Sgt Telford and Guardsman Major, said: “They remain amazed their loved ones were put in such avoidable harm’s way by the Ministry of Defence, and they are sad several crucial opportunities were missed to identify Gulbuddin as a threat and remove him from the checkpoint.
“The families are glad the Ministry of Defence has learnt some important lessons as a result of this incident and that their boys did not die in vain.
“But they are very sad that it took this wholly avoidable incident and the resulting appalling loss of life to cause those steps to be taken.”
Had Gulbuddin’s previous criminal behaviour at Checkpoint Blue 25 been dealt with properly, Mr Fielding said, he would not have been in a position to carry out his attack.
His comments were echoed by the family of Corporal Webster-Smith, who said: “As a family we hope lessons have been learnt and the questions raised at this inquest will be acted upon.
“We pray that Nick’s loss will not be in vain, and that an incident like this will never happen again.”
The family said they “remain convinced this was not an isolated action by a lone gunman, but part of a co-ordinated attack by the Taliban insurgents.”
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murders, and some reports suggested Gulbuddin had escaped back to them afterwards.
Military sources, however, have suggested the attack was probably unconnected to the insurgents.
No one knows for certain why Gulbuddin opened fire, but he fled the checkpoint and has never been caught. Some soldiers told the inquest that he might have been shot dead in a firefight immediately after the massacre.
The British soldiers were at the checkpoint in the village of Shin Kalay to defuse a “blood feud” between a police commander and the local Taliban. The incident had created tensions between villagers and the ANP.
Post-mortem examinations found that all five men died as a result of gunshot wounds and that, with the exception of Cpl Webster-Smith, wearing body armour would not have saved them.
The coroner ruled the five had been unlawfully killed while on active service in Afghanistan.
He said that he was satisfied that none of the troops – nor the military authorities – had felt they were at risk from attack by the ANP.