Family’s anguish over death of ‘hero’

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The heartbroken family of a soldier found dead in his barracks today spoke movingly of a “true hero” who had planned to dedicate his life to the regiment he loved.

The family of Corporal Geoffrey McNeill said he had told them just weeks before his tragic death that he was looking forward to a bright future in the Armed Forces.

And, speaking for the first time since the discovery of his body in an accommodation block at his Clive Barracks army base at Tern Hill, Shropshire, they said the loss had left them experiencing a “living hell”, with the family desperate to find out what led to his death.

Cpl McNeill, 32, of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, was found at the base at around 9am on Saturday, March 8.

Describing the last time she saw him just five weeks ago, Cpl McNeill’s sister-in-law Kimberley, 26, told The Gazette: “He was a soldier in everyone’s eyes and everybody’s pulling together.

“He was an amazing person and a true hero, there are no other words to describe him.

“It was great, he was upbeat and looking forward to his future.

“It is obviously very difficult at the moment, it becomes harder and harder.

“It is very difficult for everybody and there is no answer at the moment. It is a bit of a living hell for people, but we will get through.

Lance-Corporal Richard Farrell, 23, a serving soldier with the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, is accused of killing Corporal Geoffrey McNeill following the discovery of his body.

He is due to appear before Stafford Crown Court on Wednesday.

Mrs McNeill, from South Shore, is married to Cpl McNeill’s brother Jason, 29.

His father Thomas also lives in the resort, while older brother Brian, 34, and mum Phyllis live in Northern Ireland.

His family are hugely proud of his military achievements.

And Mrs McNeill also said her brother-in-law, who was not married, was dedicated to his three nieces and three nephews, who he “idolised”.

She said: “He never had any children so they were his focus.

“He was just amazing, nobody had a bad word to say about him.”

Corporal McNeill was frequently away from Blackpool with the Army, but Mrs McNeill and her husband would regularly send him letters of support as well as his favourite treat - Jaffa Cakes.

He was originally from Ballymoney, Northern Ireland, but spent time living in the resort with various members of his family from the age of 15 - attending St George’s School, in Marton.

He owned a house in North Shore, with his 27-year-old brother Lee and was described as a keen angler at Rossall Point who enjoyed staying active.

His family say he had “dedicated his life to his battalion” and “touched the lives of all those who had the pleasure of meeting him.”

Earlier this month the commander of the battalion also paid personal tribute to the fallen corporal.

Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Gardiner, Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, spoke out at a special parade held at the Tern Hill barracks to celebrate St Patrick’s Day - an event which members of Cpl McNeill’s family attended.

He said the occasion had been much more “sombre” than usual.

“The important thing is to carry on, as much as a respect to him than anything else,” he said. “Our thoughts are with his family and they are here at the parade.”

About 300 soldiers from the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment took part in the parade.

Mrs McNeill said: “The regiment have been really supportive.

“They’re just as keen to find out what’s happened and bring justice about as we are.”