Belfast Telegraph

Friday 29 August 2014

Body of slain Northern Ireland soldier on a last, sad journey back home

The body of a Northern Irish Army officer killed in Afghanistan will be repatriated to Britain today.

The body of Lieutenant Neal Turkington (26) is expected to be flown from Helmand Province to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire before being driven through the nearby town of Wootton Bassett.

The Craigavon man was one of three servicemen killed when a renegade Afghan National Army soldier went on the rampage at a military base exactly a week ago.

His devastated family flew to England yesterday and are expected to be among those lining the streets to pay their respects as the procession of coffins passes through the the market town.

It is understood Lt Turkington’s body will be passed to the Coroner at John Radcliff Hospital in Oxfordshire where a post- mortem examination will be held.

Plans for his funeral will not be released until his body has been released by the Coroner.

Lt Turkington, an Imperial College London graduate, and his Corporal Arjun Purja Pun from Nepal were killed when a rocket propelled grenade was fired into the command centre. Major James Joshua Bowman from Wiltshire was shot as he slept.

All three were serving with The Royal Gurkha Rifles as part of Combined Force Nahr-e Saraj (South) when they were killed. The MoD called it a premeditated attack.

A family statement called him a happy, generous and fine man.

“One of Neal’s proudest moments was hearing that he had been commissioned to join the Royal Gurkha Rifles. He felt honoured and privileged to serve with such distinguished, courageous and loyal men,” the statement read. “Neal was jovial, kind, considerate and loyal to his family and friends. Our family were inspired by his presence, and generosity. He was relentless and steadfast in his pursuit of those causes he believed in with his passion for making a difference whatever the circumstance. We are all so proud of him — we couldn't have asked for a finer son, brother and friend.”

His CO, Lt Col Gerald Strickland MBE, added: “He earned this respect through his integrity and raw ability. He always had a twinkle in his eye and managed to bring lightness to the gravest of situations. I could not have asked for a better officer.”

Gurkha soldiers’ rights campaigner Joanna Lumley also expressed “sadness for the families, friends and comrades involved”.

Last Wednesday, an Afghan army spokesman identified the rogue soldier as Talib Hussein (21) from the minority Hazara community which is usually opposed to the Taliban.

In a phonecall to the BBC he said he was angry at the conduct of British troops in Helmand, and accused them of killing civilians, including children.

A spokesman for the MoD said: “It is ridiculous to suggest that we are engaged in suicide attacks or are deliberately killing civilians.

“Insurgents and those who are against the coalition mission in Afghanistan routinely make false and exaggerated claims and so care must be taken not to accept their accounts at face value.”

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