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Belfast soldier Darren Leslie on guard duty turned his gun on himself, coroner is told

By Annabel Howard

Published 11/09/2015

Private Darren Leslie was said by a friend to have had ‘a smile that could light up any room’
Private Darren Leslie was said by a friend to have had ‘a smile that could light up any room’

A soldier from Northern Ireland on guard duty shot himself dead with his own gun, a coroner has heard.

A police report read to an opening inquest told how Private Darren Leslie died, heard that he was seen to fire the fatal shot by witnesses at his barracks.

The 28-year-old soldier from Newtownabbey died almost instantly in the shooting, which happened while he was on guard duty last week at St David's Barracks in Bicester, Oxfordshire.

Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter heard that Private Leslie was based at the barracks as a driver for the Royal Logistics Corps when he died from the single bullet wound.

Paramedics, doctors and an air ambulance crew fought for his life before giving a time of death of 12.18pm on the same day.

Opening the inquest at Oxfordshire Coroners' Court, Mr Salter, said: "I understand from the circumstances that on Friday, September 4 he died at 12.18pm. This was later verified also by Captain Marc Matthews.

"This is a sad case. The report from the police reads that on September 4 at St David's Barracks he was assigned guard duty," he said.

He was armed with a rifle. Witnesses saw Private Leslie lift the gun and fire," he said.

"There is a post-mortem examination performed by Dr Wassim Shamsuddin which gave a cause of death of gunshot wound to the chest. There will be a need for further investigation to determine the circumstances of this case," Capt Matthews said.

"It remains to be seen how long it will take for those investigations to be completed. It is listed for Tuesday, February 9, 2016."

Tributes were paid to Private Leslie, who lived at Ballyearl Terrace in Newtownabbey, after his death was confirmed by the Ministry of Defence. The death is not being treated as suspicious and did not involve a third party. The Ministry of Defence has launched a full investigation into the circumstances.

A close friend said that Darren had "a smile that could light up any room."

She said: "I've known Darren for years, we're childhood friends. I just can't take it in what has happened.

"Darren always smiled, not once in all the years that I've known him - and I've known him since I was a child - did I ever see him angry or aggressive."

Another friend commented: "Even when he was really sad, he was the rock of the family. He was this wee light, just when he came into the room he cheered everybody up. He was very down to earth, he never judged anyone. He went off to the Army to try to better himself and his life.

"A gentleman, a really, really lovely guy. He would have opened the door for you, just had a real heart of gold."

His friend added she had been speaking to him just over a week before his death when the soldier was home on leave in Newtownabbey.

She said: "We always had a great laugh together, he adored the Army. He wasn't immediately happy there at the start, but then it fell into place for him and he just fell in love with the Army.

"I only spoke to him a week-and-a-half ago when he was home and again he was in brilliant form, he had a big grin on his face like he always had.

"He seemed to be very happy before he left to go back. He didn't have any children of his own, but he was very much a stepfather to his partner's two kids.

"He adored his girlfriend, he was so in love with her. He loved those two children as well, just adored her and the kids.

"He would be the first person to turn up if you needed help, an exceptional person is the way I would describe him, one of those people who you meet in life and you know you're going to have a friend for life."

Private Leslie is survived by his mother Karen, father Billy and siblings.

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