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Coroner in army truck safety probe

A coroner has said he will examine the protection given by a Mastiff military vehicle blown up by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan.

Three soldiers were killed in the blast on Route 611 in the Nahr-e-Saraj district on April 30 last year.

Darren Salter, senior coroner for Oxfordshire, said at the start of their inquest that he would consider issues such as the protection afforded by the Mastiff if subject to such an attack, whether there were any defects in the vehicle, whether it was possible to detect the devices beforehand, and what intelligence was available to the patrol.

Corporal William Savage, 30, from Penicuik, Midlothian; Fusilier Samuel Flint, 21, from Edinburgh; and Private Robert Hetherington, 25 , from Edinburgh, died of blast injuries caused by an explosion, Mr Salter said.

Post-mortem examinations concluded that the three, who were with B Company, 2nd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland, would have been deeply unconscious virtually instantly and unaware of what had happened.

Mr Salter said the Mastiff is designed to resist IED attacks.

There had been earlier damage to this one, the second of three evolutions of the vehicle, in a strike in 2009.

The Royal Military Police made inquiries to the Afghan National Police about this incident, but no one was arrested over it.

The Mastiff, a protective patrol vehicle, had been from Forward Operating Base Ouellette to another base at Lashkar Gah Durai and was on its way back again when the attack happened.

There were four vehicles in the patrol.

The driver of the Mastiff, Fusilier Paul Howell, said in a statement that the regular locks to the rear doors had been faulty, and he had reported them twice.

He told the inquest that on the day in question, though they were stiff, they were fully sealed when closed.

Extra battle locks were not deployed, but they were not supposed to be when the vehicle was in open desert, only when there were potential public order situations, he said.

He said in his statement that there were 20 ammunition tins under the seats in the rear, which was normal.

The inquest, at Oxfordshire Coroners Court in Oxford, heard that the IED was buried under the road, had been placed there by tunnelling, and was triggered by a command wire, probably from behind the 10ft wall of a nearby compound.

Sergeant David Boxwell, who was in command of the patrol, said he had not been told of any problems relating to the place where the blast took place.

As for tunnelling under the road, he said: "I had never heard of it before."

Company Sgt Major Steven Main said: "Everything we had had was off the tarmac road. IEDs were placed in the dust - it's easier to conceal."

He said there was no sign on the ground of the IED.

"The wire was so deep that we would not have seen it."

Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Swift, who was leading a battle group which included B Company 2 Scots, confirmed there had been frequent and regular "hits" in the days before the attack on a surveillance system designed to counter the IED threat.

These hits show up activity, which could be digging, but did not need to be, and included the scene of the blast in its scope.

Lt Col Swift said there was nothing abnormal in the hits. "

We were not expecting to see evidence of tunnelling. Assets did not identify anything suspicious," he said.

"W e were looking for ground sign, perhaps an area of disturbed earth, and no ground sign was identified by any of these assets."

The inquest was adjourned until 10am tomorrow, when Lt Col Swift will continue giving his evidence.

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