How my son's death left our troops safer: Father's pride in most senior officer killed by Taliban

The father of the most senior British officer to be killed in Afghanistan spoke yesterday of his pride that his son's death had led to the armed forces being better equipped.

Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, who commanded 1,000 Welsh Guards, was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb after volunteering to take the most dangerous position in an armoured vehicle to inspire his troops.

An inquest yesterday heard that only three weeks earlier the 39-year- old wrote a damning memo on the lack of helicopter support in Helmand.


Inquest: Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, pictured in Afghanistan, had raised concerns over a lack of military exquipment

He complained bitterly in the email to his superiors that helicopter support for troops was 'very clearly not fit for purpose' and meant that troops had to be moved by road rather than by air, exposing them to the threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

After the inquest his father, Major John Thorneloe, paid tribute to his son.

'One good thing might have come from [his death], and that was that it made the nation, but more importantly the Government, realise that it was war we were involved in, in Afghanistan,' said Major Thorneloe, a retired artillery officer.

'You don't fight wars based on hope, you fight them based on the worst case  -  and have all the requisite equipment to manage it.


Trooper Joshua Hammond, 18, of 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, from Plymouth, also died in the explosion

'I think that focused the attention enormously and as a result of that, the armed forces were better equipped.'

The inquest at Trowbridge, Wiltshire, into the deaths of Lt Col Thorneloe and 18-year- old Trooper Joshua Hammond, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, heard that their Viking was at the head of a convoy of ten armoured vehicles guarding supplies on their way to a checkpoint in Helmand.

Lt Col Thorneloe, from Kirtlington, Oxfordshire, was in the rear of the vehicle with Trooper Hammond, from Plymouth, participating in a so-called Barma exercise, which involved drilling the road at suspicious points to identify IEDs and disable them.

Demonstrating his leadership, Lt Col Thorneloe, of 1st Battalion the Welsh Guards, had taken the place of a more junior soldier providing 'top cover' as the patrol negotiated a stretch of road captured from the Taliban.

Major Andrew Speed, who was second in command, said it was the officer's 'style of leadership'.

Rupert Throneloe

Message of thanks: Parents Veronica and John Thorneloe accompanied by Sally Thorneloe, widow of Lt Col Rupert Thorneloe, listen as a statement is read out, following the vedict of unlawful killing

He said: 'Like all good leaders Lt Col Thorneloe wanted to get on the ground.

'By showing his men that he was prepared to do what they were doing, they can only be inspired by that.'

Corporal Kevin Williams, who was commanding the lead Viking, said the IED that caused the fatal blast was 'unusual' and that he believed 'the pressure pads may have been separate from the explosive' to detonate after a vehicle had passed over it.

Cpl Williams said the device may have been intended to target vehicles like Vikings, which at the time had been fitted with upgraded armour in the front of the vehicle, but not the rear.


'Best friend': Widow Sally Thorneloe yesterday

He said he believed the decision to increase the armour on the rear of the Viking had been taken as a direct result of this incident.

Lt Col Thorneloe's leaked memo undermined a previous claim by Gordon Brown that helicopter shortages had not caused the deaths of troops fighting the Taliban.

In it, he said there were 'virtually no' helicopters of the type which would allow him to move troops by air rather than road.

His email read: 'I have tried to avoid griping about helicopters  -  we all know we don't have enough.


Tributes: Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe's wife, Sally, watches as his coffin is carried out of the Guards Chapel, London, last year

'We cannot not move people, so this month we have conducted a great deal of administrative movement by road. This increases the IED threat and our exposure to it.'

At yesterday's hearing Major Speed said: 'He had his own mind.

'He was bright and intelligent and wanted to share his views with someone else outside Afghanistan.'

But the officer added that he felt he had sufficient helicopter support to carry out his duties, and helicopters would not have been used on the fatal patrol on July 1 last year.

Coroner David Ridley recorded a verdict of unlawful killing for both soldiers.


Procession: Hearses carrying the coffins of Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, 39, and Trooper Josh Hammond, 18, pass mourners Wootton Bassett last year

Following his death, Lt Col Thorneloe's wife Sally said she had lost her 'best friend' and added: 'Our daughters Hannah and Sophie will have to grow up without their beloved daddy, although I will see a part of him in them every day.'

Yesterday Trooper Hammond's parents said: 'We were devastated by Josh's death and as a family his loss has left a gaping hole in our lives.

'But we are also very proud, not only of what he achieved but of the way he chose to live his life.'

Earlier this week another inquest was told that three soldiers would not have died as a result of American 'friendly fire' if a radio operator had been supplied with a headset.

Joshua Hammond

Sarah Finnegan, mother of Joshua Hammond, leaves the inquest into his death, accompanied by her husband Kevin Finnegan

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