One of Cambridgeshire's oddest traditions gets under way this morning...
Single Shot 'Killed Two Soldiers'
An inquest's heard how a single shot fired by an insurgent ''sharpshooter'' killed two British soldiers in Afghanistan.
Private Lewis Hendry, of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, and Private Conrad Lewis, of 4th Battalion The Parachute Regiment, were shot as they patrolled an area in the north of the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand Province on February 9.
An inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, heard Ptes Hendry and Lewis were taking part in a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army when they came under fire.
The purpose of the patrol had been to find enemy firing points and to reassure the population in a small village.
The day before, another patrol had been engaged by accurate small arms fire from the same area.
The men had left Checkpoint Qudrat, in the northern part of Nad-e Ali, on the morning of February 9 in the knowledge insurgents were aware of their patrol.
Sergeant Major Christopher Smith, of 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, led the patrol in an area which he said was ''probably one of the most dangerous places to go out''.
''The main threat, known to everyone, was a sharpshooter. In this instance there was more than one.
''Conrad was the point man, he was a very important part of the patrol, he was the eyes and ears up front. Lewis was one of two behind him.''
The inquest heard the patrol left in a single-file formation with Pte Hendry and Pte Lewis at the front.
The patrol was moving across an area of compounds and became aware of Afghan men running around in the area of ''compound 31'', although none were seen with weapons.
''We thought we were being watched as soon as we left the checkpoint,'' Sgt Maj Smith said.
''A single round was shot from compound 31. It was quite accurate.''
The inquest heard the shot passed through the legs of one of the other members of the patrol. Following the shot, Sgt Maj Smith sent an initial contact report stating there were snipers in the area.
''The boys reacted, firing back. About five to six seconds after that the call came, man down,'' Sgt Maj Smith told the inquest.
He said the time from the first shot to the second shot was only about 10 seconds.
The inquest heard the men were kneeling down behind a wall when the shot hit Pte Hendry in the head, exiting his body and then hitting Pte Lewis in the neck.
The men instantly received medical attention while the patrol continued to take fire.
A statement from Soldier A, a member of the special forces support group and Afghan National Army mentor, was read to the court by coroner David Ridley.
''His recollection was that from the intelligence insurgents were aware of the patrol.
''He was up front with Conrad and Lewis. They shouted for a target indication following the first shot. They did not appear to know where the compound was, they were shoulder to shoulder on bent knee and had a map out.
''He recalls a single shot, he'd just shouted where compound 31 was, that's when they both fell to the right, on top of him.''
Lance Corporal Timothy Dymott, of the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to 3 Para, said he attended to Pte Lewis first, but that his initial assessment was that he was dead.
''I was treating Conrad. I looked up and saw Soldier A was dealing with Lewis, from a distance I saw he had signs of life, he was conscious.
''Once I'd passed on treatment of Conrad, Lewis had already had initial treatment by the ANA mentor and there was no further treatment I could give Lewis, so I assisted with his breathing.''
The men were transported back to Checkpoint Qudrat by Jackal vehicle and were flown to Kandahar where there is a specialist neurosurgeon.
While Pte Hendry was initially conscious, his condition deteriorated on the flight. On arrival at Kandahar the men's treatment was stopped. They were both then flown to Camp Bastion where they were pronounced dead.
A post-mortem examination found they had both died from a gunshot wound and would not have been expected to survive their injuries.
Alan Hepper, a body armour expert, told the inquest the shot to Pte Hendry's head was outside the area of his helmet, while the bullet ''nicked'' the edge hem of Pte Lewis's body armour.
The family of Pte Lewis listened as Mr Ridley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing. Pte Hendry's family had said the circumstances were still too ''raw'' to attend the inquest.
Mr Ridley said:
''Both Lewis and Conrad were seen to fall to the ground. Both had been hit by the same bullet. Lewis first sustained a gunshot wound to the head, the bullet then striking Conrad next to him in the neck. Both sustained an injury incompatible with life.
''I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that both Conrad and Lewis were the victims of a bullet fired from an insurgent weapon. Having heard the evidence, the most appropriate conclusion to record is that both Lewis Hendry and Conrad Lewis were unlawfully killed whilst on active service.''
Pte Hendry, who was born in Norwich, died just three days before his 21st birthday. He was said by his parents to have had a ''true heart of gold'' and a smile which ''lit up every room he walked into''.
Mr Ridley read to the court a statement from Captain Ollie Mikulskis, Officer Commanding Patrols Platoon, 3 Para, who described Pte Hendry as ''confident, steadfast, fit and fearless''.
''Lewis was the epitome of why this brotherhood of paratroopers is so strong, the epitome of all that is best about the Parachute Regiment,'' Capt Mikulskis said.
Mr Ridley added a statement from Sergeant Major Richard Hames, 3 Para, that said:
''Pte Lewis is a paratrooper first and a civilian second.''
''He joined 4 Para so he could be with the very best, on the front line, in a forward patrol base, with his fellow paratroopers of Fire Support Group 1.
''Despite the rigours and harsh routine of daily contacts and long patrols through the day and night he never faltered in his commitment to his fellow Airborne brothers.''
Pte Lewis, 22, was born in Boscombe, Bournemouth, and grew up in Warwickshire.
The men were both deployed to Afghanistan on October 10 last year. Pte Hendry was a member of the Patrols Platoon detachment serving with A Company, while Pte Lewis was a member of the Fire Support Group attached to A Company, 3 Para.
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