Burwell soldier killed unlawfully, inquest told

PUBLISHED: 15:13 18 June 2010 | UPDATED: 12:30 21 June 2010

Pte Robert Hayes

Pte Robert Hayes

Archant

A SOLDIER from Burwell was killed by an improvised explosive device while trying to clear a safe path for his comrades on patrol in Afghanistan, an inquest heard.

A SOLDIER from Burwell was killed by an improvised explosive device while trying to clear a safe path for his comrades on patrol in Afghanistan, an inquest heard.

Private Robert Hayes, 19, was leading his battle group on a mission to flush out insurgents in Helmand Province, in January when he set off an IED placed in a tower by insurgents and died.

At Private Hayes inquest, held at Wisbech Magistrates court on Friday, Coroner for North and East Cambridgeshire William Morris, ruled that Private Hayes had been unlawfully killed while on active service.

The inquest heard from Pte Hayes battle group leader Sergeant Ryan Vickery, that on the morning of January 3, Hayes joined on a patrol mission to identify insurgent firing positions in the Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand provice.

The 19-year-old had volunteered to act as ‘Vallon’ operator for the group, placing him in charge of searching for IEDs and mines using an army issue metal detector, while the battle group advanced.

After coming under fire from insurgents holed up in a tower, known as ‘compound 33’, Pte Hayes battle group sought cover and fired a javelin missle in the direction of the fire, killing the insurgents.

Sergeant Vickery told the court that part of their mission required them to carry out a ‘battle damage assessment’ of the building they had fired upon and the group subsequently made for the compound.

After crawling to the compound under more insurgent fire, Pte Hayes took the lead with his Vallon metal detector and began sweeping for mines while his colleagues provided support.

Together with his colleague Corporal Jospeh Warren, Pte Hayes moved ahead of the rest of the group and began sweeping a set of stairs in a tower built within the complex. While Cpl Warren had turned to check for insurgents from a nearby window however, Pte Hayes triggered an IED and died almost instantly in the blast.

Cpl Warren told the court: “Pte Hayes had cleared a space under a window to operate in and he was then using the Vallon to check another area before he moved.

“The last thing I remember was a big flash and a bang from where Pte Hayes was and the next thing I recall it was completely black and I was covered in rubble.”

The court heard that the roof of the tower collapsed on the pair due to the force of the blast, covering them both in logs and mud.

Sergeant Vickery was first on the scene, “At that instant when the device had gone off there was a lot of smoke coming from the area and I was unable to see what had happened to the two.

“I then heard voices on my radio coming from Corpral Warren saying he was stuck so I started digging out rubble. Not long after I started digging I came across some body armour and that is when I found Pte Hayes.

“I did not conduct any form of first aid because it quickly become apparent that there was no need.”

Pte Hayes suffered ‘massive’ injuries in the explosion which, the court heard. were typical of injuries sustained at close proximity to a major blast.

Pte Hayes death was the first for British troops in 2010 and the 19-year-old Royal Anglian was described by colleagues as a “hugely professional and talented soldier.”

Pte Hayes, who fufilled a lifelong dream by becoming a solider, was a popular member of Newmarket Rugby Club and won his weight category in the battalion’s 2009 boxing championships.

Coroner William Morris told the court that there was no question of equipment failure with regards the Vallon and ecorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

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