Canal soldiers died after collision

Published: Friday 24th April 2015 by The News Editor

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A British armoured vehicle rolled into a canal in Afghanistan – killing four of its occupants – after colliding with a parked Afghan National Police car at up to 40mph, an inquest heard.

Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Lance Corporal David Ramsden, Private Douglas Halliday and Private Alex Isaac – all from the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) – died in the incident.

The soldiers, members of a police advisory team, were responding to reports of an insurgent attack at a police checkpoint near Gereshk in Helmand province at 10pm on June 23, 2010.

Their vehicle, a 20-tonne Ridgeback protected patrol vehicle (PPV), driven by L/Cpl Ramsden, collided with a two-tonne Afghan National Police Ranger car by the Nahr-e-Bughra canal.

Salisbury Coroner’s Court heard the darkly-painted Ranger was parked at a right-angle, with the front end protruding into the path of the Ridgeback, and did not have any lights on.

The collision caused the Ridgeback to veer off the road before rolling into the cold water and overturning then resting on one side – leaving the six occupants trapped inside.

C/Sgt Horton, L/Cpl Ramsden, Pte Halliday and Pte Isaac were unable to escape due to the darkness, cold and murky water, impact of the Ridgeback hitting the water and their body armour.

David Ridley, coroner for Wiltshire & Swindon, said the speed of the Ridgeback, estimated at between 30 and 40mph, was a contributory factor to the crash.

“Unbeknown to the Quick Response Force, members of the Afghan National Police (ANP) were also in the area investigating reports of insurgent activity,” the coroner said.

“The vehicle, an ANP Ranger with no lights on, had been parked on the south east corner of the bridge. The front section was protruding into the road and lay in the path of the Ridgeback.

“I find as a fact that the speed the Ridgeback was travelling at more likely than not was more than 30mph but no more or equal to 40mph. The maximum speed limit on that road was 19mph.”

The coroner said the Ridgeback could be likened to an emergency response vehicle travelling to an incident in the UK, which would be permitted to exceed the speed limit.

He said L/Cpl Ramsden – described by comrades as an “excellent” driver – probably did not see the Ranger until after the collision.

“The speed of the Ridgeback was a contributory factor in terms of the collision as no evasive action could be taken,” he added.

“Another contributory factor was the inconspicuous presence of the unlit and darkly coloured ANP patrol vehicle when set against the dark background.”

The soldiers were regularly called for assistance at the police checkpoint, known as checkpoint five (CP5) which was an easy target due to its remote location.

At 9.15pm on June 23 2010, they were asked to attend CP5 following an attack of three explosions and gunfire from insurgents.

Two Ridgeback vehicles set off, with vehicle commander Clr Sgt Horton, driver Lce Cpl Ramsden, Pte Halliday and remote weapons gunner Pte Isaac in the first along with two others.

Their Ridgeback collided with the ANP vehicle as it passed over a bridge on the Bandi Baq road near CP5. A loud band was heard, followed by someone shouting: “We’re going in”.

The inquest heard the soldiers’ escape was hindered by a number of factors, including their heavy but essential body armour and the cold water.

C/Sgt Horton, L/Cpl Ramsden and Pte Isaac also suffered blunt impact trauma to their heads, leaving them unconscious and groggy.

The second Ridgeback vehicle was alerted to the incident as it reached the bridge and “valiant attempts” were made to rescue the stricken four, the coroner said.

They were later retrieved from the water, not wearing their body armour or helmets. A post-mortem examination found the cause of all four deaths was drowning.

The coroner reached a narrative conclusion combined with the conclusion that the soldiers died in a road traffic collision while on active service in Afghanistan.

He will write a report to help prevent future deaths, raising seven points of concern which came to light during the six-day inquest.

These concerns include the front suspension, lighting, tyre pressures and bolts in Ridgeback vehicles and the wider Cougar fleet.

Speaking after the inquest on behalf of all four bereaved families, Denise Owen, mother of Pte Halliday, said the soldiers are “deeply missed”.

“We hope that the Ministry of Defence will now carry out a thorough investigation into the problems highlighted in the inquest, and that our troops will in the future be given vehicles and equipment which are fit for their intended purpose,” she said.

“While the war in Afghanistan may be over, we hope that the sacrifice made by our beloved soldiers will not be forgotten.”

C/Sgt Horton, 34, from Runcorn, joined the Army in 1992 – seeing service in Cyprus, the Falkland Islands, Belize and Kenya, and on operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Speaking after his death, his sister Caroline said: ” Martyn lived for three things – family, Army and Liverpool. He will be fondly missed by everyone he knew and sadly died doing the job he loved.”

L/Cpl Ramsden, 26, from Leeds, joined the Army in 2002 and served in operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

He left the Army in 2007 to pursue a career as a civilian, but became a Reservist and deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 to advise the Afghan police.

His family said: “We all loved him so much – he was very generous and he would do anything for his family and friends.”

Pte Halliday, 20, from Wallasey, Merseyside, joined the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) in 2008 and served in Northern Ireland, Kenya and on operations in Afghanistan.

“Dougie was always the life and soul of the party and will be missed by all.We are all extremely privileged to have shared his short life,” his family said.

Pte Isaac, 20, from the Wirral, also joined the Army in 2008, serving in Kenya and on operations in Afghanistan.

His mother, Annette Isaac, said: “My beautiful darling son who was a fighter, and so brave, you will always be in my heart, my soul and my thoughts.”

Published: Friday 24th April 2015 by The News Editor

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