Inquest on Private Joseva Vatubua

The first UK soldier to be killed in Afghanistan this year died when an awaiting insurgent triggered a bomb, an inquest heard today.

Private Joseva Saqanagonedau Vatubua, 24, was on patrol on New Year's Day when he was caught in a blast by an improvised explosive device (IED).

Private Vatubua, of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, died instantly in the incident in Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

The inquest in Trowbridge, Wiltshire, heard the Fijian had been part of Operation Archer targeting known enemy firing positions north of the village of Saidabad Kalay.

The mission used ground troops to draw out the enemy while an awaiting Apache helicopter would destroy the insurgents once they were identified.

The helicopter had killed one insurgent with a missile and Pte Vatubua's patrol had moved forward to search nearby compounds for others.

Lieutenant Nigel Drapper, Pte Vatubua's platoon commander, told the hearing that four Afghan nationals were seen nearby and, upon questioning, appeared to be reluctant to enter a local graveyard.

``The four local nationals did not want to approach the graveyard and the reason they gave was what the graveyard was in the open and the Taliban would see them, and once we had left the Taliban would come and interrogate them and find out what was happening,'' the officer said.

Lt Drapper said that as they walked through the graveyard intelligence was received of an IED threat but before they had time to react the device went off.

``As I turned around, that's when the first explosion happened,'' he said.

``Then the second explosion went off above us, which we believe was a high explosive grenade Pte Vatubua was carrying.

``I turned around and I couldn't see anybody but I could hear Cpl Gorman, so I said no-one was to move in case there was a second device.

``There was a lot of shouting and screaming but I still couldn't see anything.''

One other soldier was injured in the explosion but only suffered minor injuries.

The inquest heard that it was believed the Taliban were lying in wait at a nearby mosque to trigger the device, which was controlled by a command wire.

A post-mortem examination found Pte Vatubua died from blast injuries caused by an explosion and would have died ``virtually instantaneously''.

Pte Vatubua's family, including wife Claudette and his mother, sister and aunt, heard David Ridley, the Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, record his verdict.

``I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the device that killed Pte Vatubua was an insurgent device of a command wire nature, operated most likely from nearby the mosque,'' he said.

``The most appropriate conclusion to record is that Joseva Vatubua was unlawfully killed while on active service in Afghanistan.''

Pte Vatubua was sent to Afghanistan with B Company, 5 Scots, as part of the 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment Battle Group.

Prior to his deployment in October last year the soldier, who had joined the Army in 2007, was based in Canterbury, Kent.

Following Pte Vatubua's death, his family said: ``As a family we can't put into words how proud we are of Joseva.

``He loved his job and he loved being in the family of The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

``Joseva was a keen rugby player and he was proud to play for the Army Sevens team.

``Joseva was also a member of the battalion's Fijian Choir and he has sung in Canterbury Cathedral.

``Joseva is a hugely-loved man who we will always miss but never forget.''

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