Inquest of soldier Michael Pritchard opens

image captionL/Cpl Michael Pritchard was killed as a result of small arms fire in Afghanistan in December 2009

An inquest has opened into the death of a 22-year-old soldier from East Sussex who was fatally shot in Afghanistan.

L/Cpl Michael Pritchard, of the 4th Regiment, Royal Military Police, was killed in Sangin, central Helmand Province, in December 2009.

The inquest, which is taking place at Eastbourne Town Hall, will consider whether he died as a result of friendly fire from a British sniper.

L/Cpl Pritchard was born in Maidstone, in Kent, but lived in Eastbourne.

The inquest heard that the soldier suffered a fatal gunshot wound to his side while deployed with several colleagues at an observation post to stop insurgents from placing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the road.

The soldiers were watching a blind spot in the road, Route 611, which was the main access route for British troops to bring in supplies.

The road had previously been cleared of 40 IEDs so soldiers could be placed at observation posts along the way.

'Men digging'

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze heard that earlier in the evening a group of men were seen acting suspiciously and digging in the road.

Maj Richard Streatfield told the hearing flares were fired in order to stop them doing this.

But that night the men appeared to return to the highway, he said.

The inquest heard Cpl Jonathan Dolton requested a shot on an insurgent but was told to wait.

Mr Streatfield said: "The next thing I heard was 'man down'."

He explained to the inquest that permission had to be obtained for a sniper to fire a shot at a target unless there was an immediate threat to him or someone else.

Benedict Shuttleworth, a captain in 4 Rifles who was acting as a watch keeper in the operations room, said a warning shot was fired.

He said: "There had not been permission to fire this shot so I was already on the radio warning the platoons they needed to ask permission if they wanted to fire warning shots across the line."

Sgt Syldred Decker, who was on the roof of the observation post with three others including L/Cpl Pritchard, told the hearing that one of the soldiers said someone was shooting at them and he heard shots.

'Dropped quickly'

He broke down in the courtroom as he described noticing something was wrong with L/Cpl Pritchard.

He said he felt as if had been punched in the back himself and later realised he had also been shot.

Mr Decker said: "I noticed he was holding both hands on his side and he fell to the floor."

He added: "He dropped quickly and was able to say he had been shot. After that he was unresponsive."

The inquest continues.

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