Wirral soldier was unlawfully killed

Five British soldiers, including one from Birkenhead who were shot dead by a rogue Afghan policeman were unlawfully killed, a coroner ruled today.

David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon, recorded the verdict following a four-day inquest in Trowbridge, Wilts.

The troops were gunned down without warning by an officer, known only as Gulbuddin, alongside whom they had been living at an Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoint in Nad-e-Ali, 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 on November 3, 2009.

The soldiers were sitting outside in the courtyard of Checkpoint Blue 25 relaxing, having returned earlier that day from a patrol.

Their killer walked up to the soldiers and without warning shot them with an automatic AK47 rifle.

Speaking after the inquest, the mother and girlfriend of Cpl Steven Boote, 22, from Prenton, spoke of their pride in him paying the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

"We want Steven to be remembered because he was a hero and because he volunteered to fight for his country," Margaret Boote and Emma Murray said in a statement.

"He fought very hard to get a place on the team in Afghanistan and he was a highly valued and popular member of the Royal Military Police and of the Grenadier Guards Battle Group.

"Steven paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country and he was immensely proud of what he was doing.

"We are immensely proud of him and we miss him desperately but we know he was committed to the job he was doing.

"The Army, the Royal Military Police and the Royal British Legion have been a huge support for us throughout this harrowing experience.

"We are convinced that the investigation has been thorough and we have had all of our questions answered.

"The only person to blame for Steven's death is the rogue Afghan National Policeman who committed this cowardly act and we still won't know what motivated him but we would now like to be left alone to grieve in peace."

The inquest heard harrowing evidence from troops who survived the massacre, describing how the Afghan had been screaming as he indiscriminately fired.

Lance Corporal Liam Culverhouse "played dead" after being shot in the face, arms and legs by Gulbuddin.

"All I could hear was gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, gunfire, scream, and then it all stopped," L/Cpl Culverhouse said.

The soldier, who was blinded in his right eye, said: "I saw a flash of red out of my uninjured eye and realised I'd been shot.

"At first, I thought it was through a gap in the barbed wire. All I heard was a rifle going off in automatic bursts and Gulbuddin shouting something that was like a war cry."

One soldier on sentry duty held back from shooting him with a machine gun mounted on an armoured vehicle in case he injured colleagues nearby.

As the troops were off-duty, none was wearing body armour, helmets or carrying weapons.

Post-mortem examinations found all five died as a result of gunshot wounds and, with the exception of Cpl Webster-Smith, wearing body armour would not have saved them.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the murders and some reports suggested Gulbuddin had escaped back to them, but military sources have suggested the attack was probably unconnected to the insurgents.

No one knows why Gulbuddin opened fire, killing the five and also wounding six troops and two Afghan policemen. 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.