Bomb Disposal Expert 'unlawfully killed'

A coroner's ruled that a Thames Valley bomb disposal expert was unlawfully killed while on active service.

Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid, who was based in Didcot with the 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment Royal Logistics Corps, was hailed as the bravest of the brave after disarming 64 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) during a single tour of duty in Helmand Province.

The inquest found that nothing in the Army operation which led to the death of a bomb disposal hero could have prevented his "catastrophic injuries'' in Afghanistan. Cornwall coroner Emma Carlyon heard that the 30-year-old had been "impatient'' and "not his usual jovial self'' before he died. But she accepted evidence that neither he nor his comrades could have done anything to prevent the blast that killed him.

Delivering a narrative verdict, she told Truro Coroner's Court:

"There was nothing in the operation which fell below what might have been expected and that could have contributed to his death."

S/Sgt Schmid was posthumously awarded the George Cross for disarming 64 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in five months. But he triggered a new type of Taliban pressure plate before Army chiefs had been able to develop equipment to detect the device, it was revealed.

S/Sgt Schmid was hailed as an "inspiration'' and a "giant of a man" during two days of evidence. But it was also revealed that he had been in a rush to get his job done after a poignant phone call with his stepson the day before. Several colleagues told how he was "impatient'' and "frustrated" after his five-year-old stepson Laird told him: "Daddy, time to come home"

Colonel Bob Seddon, Britain's top bomb disposal officer who resigned last year, told how in the month after S/Sgt Schmid's death in October 2009, the Army had 50% of its desired level of improvised explosive device (IED) specialists. He also said it was a "constant battle'' to keep up with new IEDs developed by the Taliban.

Col Seddon told the hearing in Truro, Cornwall:

"With the equipment capability that Olaf had at the time, he would not have had the ability to detect a low metal content pressure plate."

Speaking outside court, he said the military is now much better equipped to deal with the devices. He said:

"He was working in the most hazardous environment I have seen in my life"

But he added that the Army had been working to develop a device to detect the new type of pressure plate since August 2009.

S/Sgt Schmid died after his knee came into contact with the plate as he disarmed his third set of explosives of the day in Sangin. The following morning he was due to fly home to his wife for a break from duty.

Col Seddon said S/Sgt Schmid was working under intense pressure. He said:

"We have to be lucky always, they (the Taliban) have to be lucky just once. He was working under intense pressure. I believe he should be judged by the number of lives and limbs he saved. To the very end he was an exemplar in what I looked for in a high quality operator."

Widow Christina was absent from today's hearing after walking out on evidence midway through yesterday's session. But she released this statement:

"The inquest attempts to record the exact cause of death; only the precise moment that Oz died. It is a deeply unsettling and traumatic process for myself, our families, friends and, of course, those members of his team. I will take the next few days to consider its' findings in full. I would like to thank the public for their continued support of, not only, me but all of the Armed Services and their families."

S/Sgt Schmid, of the Royal Logistic Corps, was born in Truro, but lived in Winchester, Hampshire, with Christina and Laird. He joined the Army in 1996 and during the summer before his death he took part in Operation Panther's Claw, the Army's offensive to clear populated areas in central Helmand of Taliban insurgents.

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