Coroner: Assumptions led to soldier’s death

The tragic death of Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard occurred because ‘assumptions were made’, the coroner has said.

Eastbourne soldier Michael Pritchard, 22, was shot by a British sniper in 2010 and an inquest into his death is taking place at Eastbourne Town Hall.

On Monday (May 21), the coroner heard there was much confusion surrounding the location of LCpl Pritchard who was mistaken as an insurgent.

The sniper, LCpl Malcolm Graham, believed he was seeing insurgents laying an improvised explosive device in the road through a thermal imaging lens. He had ‘eyes on’ the heat source for some time but Pritchard was shot on the roof of his observation point.

The sniper and other soldiers involved were not aware of the close proximity of Pritchard’s observation post or the restricted firing line that was in place. Commanding officer for the sniper’s post, Cpl Jonathan Dolton, knew of Pritchard’s post but didn’t point it out to the sniper on the map – leaving LCpl Graham unaware of its exact location. Captain Michael Holden, who was in the ops room and communicating with the sniper’s post, said he was ‘shocked’ Cpl Dolton had not passed on the location of Pritchard’s post to LCpl Graham.

Captain Holden also told the coroner he thought the heat source they were watching was in a different location, further away from Pritchard’s post. He had also held off granting permission to fire while he explored other possible tactics and had not granted permission for the final lethal shot which killed LCpl Pritchard.

Coroner Alan Craze said, “This is a tragedy under any circumstance but it occurred because of a lot of assumptions have been made and information has been given to you [Captain Holden] which turned out to be wrong.”

LCpl Graham previously told the inquest he would not have taken the shot if he had known there was a friendly post so close.

It was accepted by Captain Holden that communications were poor and relaying messages to the sniper’s post may have caused further difficulties.

He said communications improved in the weeks after LCpl Pritchard’s death with the introduction of new equipment and a CCTV camera that allowed servicemen in the ops room to see what was going on elsewhere.

The inquest continues.