South West Wales

Michael Maguire gun range stray bullet death unlawful

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Media captionRanger Michael Maguire, 21, was hit in the head as he stood in a "safe" area at Castlemartin

A verdict of unlawful killing has been returned on a soldier killed by a stray bullet at a Pembrokeshire firing range.

Ranger Michael Maguire, 21, of 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment, was hit in the head as he stood in a "safe" area at Castlemartin.

The inquest in Cardiff heard he was killed by a machine gun round probably fired from 0.6 miles (1km) away.

An Army weapons expert said safety failures meant a gunner shooting at a target was not firing out to sea.

The hearing was also told people on nearby Freshwater West beach may have been in the line of fire as steps to ensure the firing was no danger to other soldiers appeared to have gone seriously wrong.

Ranger Maguire, from County Cork, Ireland, was in a field 1km away from the action zone in an area where soldiers eat their lunch when he was shot and killed in May 2012.

At 6ft 7in (2m) tall, Ranger Maguire was hit in the head. He was not wearing his protective helmet and armour.

Evidence suggests he was hit by a fellow soldier who was firing a machine gun at a stationary target.

The inquest heard that other soldiers on live fire exercises were also probably shot at due to the way the target had been placed, requiring the machine gunner to fire across land rather than out to sea.

The jury also heard evidence suggesting that civilians who may have been relaxing at nearby Freshwater West beach, 1.6 miles (2.5km) to the north west, were also at risk of being hit.

Capt Gary Palmer, of the Infantry Battle School based in Brecon, Powys, who investigated the death with Dyfed-Powys Police, told the inquest the machine gunners had shot outside the safe areas specified.

He said: "The targets should have been to the west and not to the north. It was in a dangerous position."

Investigations ongoing

Ranger Maguire, who joined his regiment on 10 May 2010, had served in Afghanistan.

Known to his army friends as High Tower because of his height, he went to school at St Goban's College, near Bantry, in County Cork.

The family of Ranger Maguire was present at the inquest throughout and welcomed the outcome.

His father Michael Maguire senior listened in silence as the inquest verdict was read out, while Jimmy Maguire, the ranger's older brother, said the hearing had been an "emotional ordeal" for the family.

He said that despite the outcome there were still unanswered questions, such as the ability of the officer who planned and oversaw the shooting exercises.

In a statement the family said: "Mike was a dearly loved son and brother, and he is much missed by us, his family, and everyone who knew him.

"Our mother was sadly unable to be present at the inquest due to illness.

"We are pleased the inquest heard that Mike was a very well-liked member of his battalion, who served in difficult conditions in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

"It makes it all the more ironic that he should lose his life on a training exercise in Wales."

After the inquest, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson said investigations were still ongoing into Ranger Maguire's death.

"Our thoughts are with Ranger Michael Maguire's family and friends at this very difficult time," the spokesperson added.

"We will look very closely at the coroner's comments to ensure that we make all the necessary changes to prevent an accident of this nature happening again."

The Castlemartin Army Training Area was established in 1939 and covers 5,900 acres (2,390 hectares) in south Pembrokeshire.

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