Afghanistan blast hero was best soldier in his company, Leeds inquest hears

Rifleman Sheldon Steel
Rifleman Sheldon Steel
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A SOLDIER from Leeds died after he triggered an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan despite 26 of his colleagues walking across the same piece of ground before him, an inquest has heard.

A coroner heard how Rifleman Sheldon Steel, 20, of the 5th Battalion The Rifles, was the second-to-last in a line of soldiers on patrol in Helmand Province when the blast went off on November 27 last year.

The rifleman - described by everyone at the inquest as the best soldier in his company - was on patrol in Babaji, in the Lashkar Gah district, as part of a distraction operation.

As designated sharp-shooter in the patrol he was second-to-last in the line as the patrol crossed arable land near a pumping station.

Leeds Coroner David Hinchliff was told Rifleman Sheldon, who lived all his life in Leeds, suffered unsurvivable injuries in the blast when he stood on the device.

Major Matthew Baker told the inquest how he saw the explosion from his command post on top of a building.

He said: “I saw a large explosion - a column of dust and smoke about 100ft high.”

The officer said: “He (Rifleman Sheldon) was the most exceptional individual rifleman in the company.

“You couldn’t have asked for anyone more capable.

“My view is that he would almost certainly have become a warrant officer in the Army.”

Mr Hinchliff said it was likely Rifleman Sheldon’s feet had strayed just a few millimetres from the foot marks of those in front of him, triggering the buried explosive.

Mr Hinchliff said: “Twenty-six sets of feet going on that piece of ground. We are talking about big, burly soldiers with their kit.

“This is a matter of fate and irony and everything else like that.

“Why should it have happened at that moment?”

Mr Hinchliff recorded a verdict that Rifleman Sheldon was unlawfully killed while on active service in the British Army serving his country in Afghanistan.

The coroner told Rifleman Sheldon’s mother, Victoria Fulthorpe, her son was “a fine young man - a very brave young man” and he paid tribute to soldiers who risk their lives in Afghanistan every day.

Mr Hinchliff said: “All of us should be very grateful not only to him (Rifleman Sheldon) but to everybody else who’s serving at the moment.”

In a statement after the inquest, Mrs Fulthorpe said: “I was (am) very honoured and proud to be his mother and proud of the achievements of his whole life.

“And to add a big thank-you to the Army and 5 Rifles. They have been very supportive all the way through.

“I wish you all health and happiness and safety in your lives. Keep being the heroes you are.

“Me and Sheldon are so proud of you all.”