Suffolk soldier unlawfully killed

A SOLDIER from Ipswich was unlawfully killed in Iraq when insurgents blew up the boat in which she was travelling, a coroner ruled today.

A SOLDIER from Ipswich was unlawfully killed in Iraq when insurgents blew up the boat in which she was travelling, a coroner ruled today.

Staff sergeant Sharron Elliott, 34, of the Intelligence Corps, and three colleagues died on Shatt al-Arab River on November 12 last year when a makeshift explosive mounted on a bridge was detonated as the boat passed underneath.

At an inquest in Oxford, it emerged that the deaths could have been avoided if the Royal Marines boat had been equipped with an electronic counter measure (ECM), a device which prevents bombs like this from being detonated.

There were plenty of the kits in theatre at the time but the boat did not have one.

The hearing was also told that the bridge where the bomb was planted was not searched before the boat went underneath - something coroner Andrew Walker said amounted to “a serious failure to follow basic procedure” by the Royal Marines.

Along with staff sgt Elliott, a former Hadleigh High School pupil, those killed were warrant officer Lee Hopkins, 35, corporal Ben Nowak, 27, and marine Jason 'Jay' Hylton.

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The coroner, recording his unlawful killing verdicts, said: “This was an entirely avoidable incident if the basic principles (of military training) had been followed.

“A vulnerable point (in this case the bridge) should not be crossed unless a search of the point has been carried out.

“There was no search of the area as required by basic training and the bridge, in these circumstances, should not have been negotiated.

“The protective measures (ECMs) available, carried on two of the three boats, did not prevent the explosion. Had all the boats carried such measures, it is more likely than not that the explosion would not have occurred.”

Captain Richard Morris, in charge of 539 Assault Squadron's boat group, said the stricken Rigid Raiding Craft was carrying seven people, two of them passengers, north to Basra Palace from Shatt al-Arab Hotel, both British bases.

“Boats were the favoured way of moving along the waterway because at the time boats had never been targeted,” said capt Morris.

He said that on this occasion a shortage of land-based troops meant they were not able to spare men to secure the bridge.

The task, the first boat trip by the Royal Marines following a hand over of river transport responsibilities from the Royal Engineers, went ahead anyway. After the deaths, troops were made available to secure the bridge.

The murders were filmed and the footage later broadcast on Iraqi television. Family members were shown the film privately yesterday.

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