Eastbourne soldier was killed by British sniper, inquest hears

Michael Pritchard.
Michael Pritchard.

A soldier from Eastbourne was killed by a British sniper during friendly fire while serving in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard was based in Sangin, Helmand Province, at the time as a military policeman seconded to the 3 Rifles Battlegroup.

An inquest into his death began today (Monday) and heard that LCpl Pritchard was part of a small unit manning an observation post in an outer suburb of Sangin when he died on December 20, 2009.

His team had helped set up a basic look-out post on a main road which had been dogged by explosives left by insurgents in a bid to hamper British Forces efforts in the area.

Two bases had been set up along the road to watch for enemy fighters, but left a blindspot which the military feared could allow bands of insurgents to continue leaving improvised explosive devices, or IEDs as they are more commonly known.

It was in attempting to open up that out of sight area that LCpl Pritchard, who lived in Northiam Road, found himself on the roof of a building which had just that day been bought by the Army, overlooking the perilous Route 611.

Later that day, at around 9pm, the 22-year-old was shot in side of the ribs by a British sniper based at one of the two main patrol bases further along the road.

Much of the early evidence heard at the inquest, which is being held at Eastbourne Town Hall and is expected to last two weeks, was used to set the scene and explain the geography of the area.

And over the coming days the inquest will look further into why the sniper ended up shooting LCpl Pritchard and what more could have been done to prevent the accident.

Questions have been raised as to why a radio order to wait before firing was not followed by the sniper and whether or not the rules of engagement were properly followed.

The sniper, who is expected to give evidence on Wednesday, thought he was shooting at insurgents digging in the road.

See Wednesday’s Gazette and Friday’s Herald for the latest news from the inquest.