A SNIPER who is believed to have shot a comrade he thought was a Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan has told an inquest he had not been trained to fire his rifle in the dark.
Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, 22, from Eastbourne, East Sussex, was killed by a gunshot wound to the ribcage which is believed to have been fired from a remote observation post, known as a sangar, by Lance Corporal Malcolm Graham, of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion, who thought he was shooting at insurgents digging in the road, the hearing at Eastbourne Town Hall was told.
L/Cpl Pritchard, who was on secondment with 4th Battalion The Rifles, was deployed to the observation post N30 on December 20, 2009 to watch a blind spot on an access road, Route 611, in the Sangin area of central Helmand Province to make sure Taliban insurgents did not plant improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the road, the hearing was told.
L/Cpl Graham said that all of his sniper training had taken place during daylight hours and he had never used a thermal imaging sight at night.
He told the court he was in bed on December 20 when he was told there were insurgents digging IEDs into the road and that he would receive a briefing when he got to the remote sangar.
On arrival he asked section commander Corporal Jonathan Dolton what was happening and he was told two men were digging IEDs into the road 700m away, the hearing heard.
He was also told escalation drills had been carried out and sentries had fired warning shots with a machine gun.
L/Cpl Graham said: "He (Cpl Dolton) told me there was an observation post in the area and that I had been brought in for accurate fire."
L/Cpl Graham said he was never given an exact location for N30 and asked Cpl Dolton for more information.
He was told it was on the right hand side of the road from where the suspected insurgents were digging but that they could not see the observation post from where they were.
Cpl Dolton told the inquest that if he had realised his men were shooting at British soldiers they would have ceased firing immediately.
He said poor radio communication meant he never received any messages to say shots were being fired close to an observation post where one of their colleagues was fatally wounded.
Cpl Dolton said that he was told by soldiers when he arrived at the remote sangar that they thought they had spotted insurgents in the road.
He looked through a viper thermal imaging sight and made out two human figures in the road, the inquest heard.
He said Lance Corporal Craig Knight told him they had permission to fire warning shots at the sources from the operations room.
Cpl Dolton said he reminded everyone that observation post N30 was being manned to the right side of the road.
But the inquest has heard that all the soldiers in the remote sangar said they were not aware there was an observation post in the area where shots were being fired.
Cpl Dolton told the court he did not believe the heat sources were coming from the post because white light was being used which goes against military tactics, he could see the outline of a body, and that the people appeared to be in the road rather than on the roof of a compound.
He said: "We were all in agreement that there were insurgents laying or arming an IED in the road."
Cpl Dolton said the Bowman (communications system) and their personal radios started working intermittently so getting information to the operations room was difficult.
He said he tried to contact N30 to let them know there were suspected insurgents in their area but he could not get through.
The inquest was told that the operations room told Cpl Dolton there were no soldiers in the road.
Cpl Dolton said: "Following all the suspicious activity I asked the ops room for permission to follow the escalation procedure, meaning moving from warning shots to lethal."
The corporal got out his map and ranged the sniper into the target which was 750m to 800m away, the inquest heard.
He said as far as he knew they had permission to fire across the restricted firing line.
Cpl Dolton said at no point was he told to cease firing at the targets.
He said: "One word, 'They have come a bit close to me'. That would have ended everything."
East Sussex Coroner Alan Craze said: "That was sent."
The corporal replied: "But it was not received, Sir."
Cpl Dolton said the first message he received over his personal radio during the whole incident was: "Check fire. Man down."
He said: "We all immediately began thinking the worst, that fire from our location had hit one of our men.
"L/Cpl Knight and Malc went quiet. They were in shock, as was I.
"I was happy that we had followed the correct procedure and escalation drills during the incident. I did not hear or receive a contact report from anyone saying they were being shot at."
He added that if he had received one message which put any doubt in his mind it would have overruled everything they were doing and they would have stopped firing.