Michael Pritchard inquest: Sniper 'not trained in dark'

L/Cpl Malcolm Graham of The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion
Image caption L/Cpl Graham was said to have "felt sick" when told a soldier had been hit

A sniper thought to have shot a comrade he mistook for a Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan has told an inquest he was not trained to shoot in the dark.

L/Cpl Michael Pritchard, of the 4th Regiment, Royal Military Police, was fatally shot in Sangin in 2009.

An inquest in East Sussex was told L/Cpl Malcolm Graham, of The Royal Scots Borderers, thought he was shooting at insurgents.

L/Cpl Graham said all his sniper training had been done during daylight.

He told the inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall he had never used a thermal imaging sight at night.

L/Cpl Pritchard, who was born in Maidstone, in Kent, but lived in Eastbourne, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to his side.

He was on secondment with 4th Battalion The Rifles and deployed to the observation post N30 on 20 December, 2009 to watch a blind spot on an access road Route 611, in central Helmand Province.

L/Cpl Graham told the court he was in bed that night when he was told there were insurgents digging improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into the road and that he would receive a briefing when he got to the remote observation post, known as a sangar.

On arrival he asked section commander Cpl Jonathan Dolton what was happening and he was told two men were digging IEDs into the road 700m away, the hearing heard.

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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 said 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.

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 L/Cpl 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.

Image caption L/Cpl Michael Pritchard died after being shot in Afghanistan in December 2009

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 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."

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."

The inquest has been adjourned until Monday.

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