A Fylde soldier killed in Afghanistan did not receive a vital message which could have saved his life.
An inquest was told how an alert sent to Cpl Loren Marlton-Thomas and his team of explosive experts – calling off their mission to disarm Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) – did not get through.
The brave Lytham soldier, 28, later died when a booby trap bomb exploded.
The Army has now changed the way messages are sent to troops in the field – a move today backed by Cpl Marlton-Thomas’ heartbroken widow Nicola.
The inquest heard:
>> A message sent from commanding officers calling off the mission never reached the troops.
>> The soldiers did not carry radios in case the frequencies triggered a blast.
>> A Sergeant Major who made a satellite phone call to his superiors was still not given the message.
Maj Genko, commanding officer of Weapons Intelligence Company who investigated the tragedy, said: “A message was authorised and 24 minutes later the same person says the team is not authorised to attend due to another operation.
“That particular call-sign (message) was confirmed but did not get to the particular team. I don’t know how far it was passed down.”
Maj Genko said measures were now in place to ensure soldiers received such important messages.
The inquest was told Cpl Marlton-Thomas died instantly as a result of blast injuries caused by the explosion.
Cpl Marlton-Thomas’s widow Nicola, 32, said: “A number of things could have been different, but that has already been implemented which is good.
“It has been two years and it gives me some sort of peace that he has not known about the device (which killed him) and he is now an angel in heaven.
“I think the main thing is that Loren was happy that day.
“He was doing a job he loved and he didn’t know anything about it so that is the most important thing to take from today.”
Cpl Marlton-Thomas, a former Lytham St Annes High School pupil who later moved to Cleveleys, was killed in November 2009 while on patrol in Garesh, in Helmand Province, Southern Afghanistan.
He was proud member of 33 Engineer Regiment and a team commander of a search team tasked with deactivating IEDs.
The team’s mission was to locate and destroy the IED which had been located by a previous patrol.
Before the blast which killed Cpl Marlton-Thomas, two IEDs had been found.
The inquest, held yesterday in Blackpool, heard Cpl Marlton-Thomas, along with Sgt Maj Ken Bellringer, were setting up an Incident Control Point – a safe location out of the blast radius – to render safe the second device when Cpl Marlton-Thomas became stuck in mud formed in an irrigation channel.
Sgt Major Bellringer said: “Cpl Marlton-Thomas had sunk into the mud in the field and said he was really stuck.
“I made my way over to the area and helped him out and we both had a chuckle.
“As I got close to him I grabbed hold of him to pull him out and I put my right foot forward to try and stabilise myself.
“I then remember rolling through the air and when I landed I kept my eyes tight shut because I didn’t want to open them.
“I kept shouting ‘I’m still here, I’m still here’ to let them know I was alive.”
Cpl Marlon-Thomas was thrown into a canal. In the confusion immediately after the blast, the team withdrew to Patrol Base Sandford where they discovered Cpl Marlton-Thomas was missing.
An a extensive search was conducted and his body was found the next day by a team of US Navy divers.
Sgt Major Bellringer, who lost both his legs in the explosion, told the inquest he believed Cpl Marlton-Thomas may have triggered the device when he became stuck in the mud and it was detonated when he was being pulled out.
Sgt Maj Bellringer added: “Because he was stuck I think he was already on it and as I have come to pull him out of the ground that has caused the device to connect and explode.”
Blackpool deputy coroner Christopher Beverley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing and praised the bravery shown by Cpl Marlton-Thomas and his team.
He said: “It’s hard to imagine what the scene would have been like on that day in Afghanistan.
“Men and women fight in all parts of the world with extreme courage to keep the threat of terrorism at bay.
“It’s my hope Loren’s family can move forward at Christmas and re-call the happy time they had with Loren, and you must be bursting with pride at his achievements.”
Mrs Marlton-Thomas added: “I had no idea how dangerous it was.
“I think Loren tried to protect myself from worrying and he said he was always at the back just commanding the guys and never in the thick of the action.
“But that was Loren down to a tee, protecting the people he loved.”