A father wept yesterday as he pleaded with a military court not to jail the man whose negligence killed his Royal Irish Ranger son.
Former policeman Gordon Dalzell told a hushed courtroom: “Taking his freedom away at this stage of his life will not benefit anyone. My son's death was a tragic accident.”
Mr Dalzell's 20-year-old son David, died instantly when a round from the rifle of his best friend, Ranger Sean Barry, hit him in the back as he helped erect a flag at a primitive base in Afghanistan in February this year.
Rgr Barry (24) who had just returned from an exhausting patrol was checking his rifle after stripping and cleaning rust from it, when the shot was fired.
Yesterday, as he pleaded guilty at a court martial to a charge of negligently performing a duty while handling a service rifle causing the unintended discharge of a round, Mr Dalzell was given permission to read a letter to the court on behalf of his wife, Susan, and their other six children.
Twice he had to stop as he broke down in the witness box while his wife sat on a chair behind him.
“This continues to be a time of utter despair,” he told the court martial.
“All our hopes and dreams for David have gone but we are extremely proud of what he did achieve in his short life.
“We are not only here today for David, but for his friend and colleague Sean.”
Mr Dalzell, from Bangor, went on: “Twelve weeks after the death of David we met Sean.
“This was probably the hardest decision we as parents had to make, but for us as parents it felt right.
“He gave us such an insight into David's life in Afghanistan and how close they were. If possible we would like to meet him again.”
“David and Sean were friends, brothers in arms who supported each other through training and at Camp Ranger in Afghanistan.
“We ask that you don't change Sean's life based on one mistake or error of judgement.”
As he stepped from the witness box Rgr Barry, of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, reached forward for tissues to wipe the tears from his eyes.
Earlier Lt Col Charlie Barnett, prosecuting, told the three-officer panel at the hearing in Colchester, Essex that the soldiers became best friends when they joined the Army in January 2010.
The soldiers had already done a five-hour patrol that morning when the shooting happened.
“Everybody was pushed to their limit, everybody was tired,” he said.
“Rgr Barry was doing his duty by looking after his rifle, but when he re-assembled it he used a loaded magazine instead of an empty one.”
Defence lawyer David Cason told the court martial: “Barry was distraught at the death of his friend.
“No matter what sentence you pass, it will not surpass the sentence he inflicts on himself.”
Sentencing Barry to six months detention suspended for a year, Judge Advocate Peters told him: “There is no punishment this court can give you which will come close to the punishment you have given yourself in the months that have passed and no doubt you will suffer until your dying day.”