The death of the 300th British serviceman killed in Afghanistan may have been caused when a watching insurgent detonated an explosive device, an inquest has heard.
Marine Richard Hollington, of 40 Commando Royal Marines, was injured in the blast in the Sangin district on June 12 last year but died from his wounds eight days later in the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.
An inquest into his death at Sutton Coldfield Town Hall today heard that on the day of the explosion Marine Hollington, 23, was working as the second vallon operator in a patrol when the front man saw a ‘ground sign’.
Sergeant William Macfarlane told the hearing that the ground sign was a line of stones meaning that insurgents had probably been in the area and planted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).
The patrol was stopped and planned to turn away from the suspected area of threat, rather than continue towards it.
Sgt Macfarlane told the inquest many servicemen carry cameras on patrol to document significant moments of interest and, while he usually carried a camera, he had forgotten it for this patrol.
Marine Hollington, who was from Petersfield, Hampshire, and known to his colleagues as ‘Dickie’, was the closest man carrying a camera, he said, and brought it over to him so he could photograph the stones.
‘Dickie walked back over towards me and he already had his camera out and he walked back up the safe line which he cleared,’ Sgt Macfarlane said.
‘There’s no way he stepped out of the safe line. He gave me his camera and then walked back the way he had come.
‘At this point I was looking down at the camera and the explosion went off.’
Sgt Macfarlane said he briefly saw two men running from the area just after the explosion.
He also said he saw a wire sticking out of the crater caused by the explosion and that, coupled with the fact that Marine Hollington and the first vallon operator had made the area safe and did not detect any devices, led him to believe that a nearby insurgent had triggered the explosion.
‘We believe that it was a command wire IED, which means that it was a device planted in the ground and somebody nearby, behind a wall or similar, has set it off.’
Immediately after the explosion Marine Hollington was treated at the scene before being taken back to the patrol base.
The Medical Emergency Response Team (Mert) helicopter flew him to Camp Bastion where he was operated on before being moved to Birmingham for further treatment.
The inquest also heard from Dr Nicholas Hunt, who said the cause of Marine Hollington’s death was meningitis and contaminated blast fragment wounds to the pelvis.
The bacteria which caused the infection in the first instance was known as acinetobacter, Dr Hunt said, and led to a very serious infection which affected the covering of Marine Hollington’s brain.
The inquest heard that it was not possible to know exactly when Marine Hollington developed the infection which led to him becoming seriously ill but Dr Susan Sinclair told the hearing it was known that he developed it very quickly.
The surgery he underwent in Birmingham was mainly for cleaning and control of his wounds, she said.
She also told the inquest that, as a result of the meningitis, Marine Hollington’s brain had swelled.
The inquest heard it was not unusual that the 10-man patrol had travelled only around 165 yards (150m) from the patrol base in around 15 minutes.
Marine Duncan Lander was part of the patrol on the day of the explosion and said that immediately afterwards he saw two young men aged around 15 to 20 running away.
The inquest also heard that Marine Hollington’s body armour and helmet were not faulty and the medical attention given to him at the scene and back at the patrol base was up to standard.
The marine’s father, Robin Hollington, who was himself a Royal Marine, paid tribute to his son’s colleagues and medical staff t the hearing, and added: ‘I would like to thank Richard’s colleagues for both their comradeship and helping Richard grow into a man.
‘He was never happier in life than during his time in the corps.’
In summing up, Coroner Aidan Cotter said that, from the evidence, he believed the explosive device had been triggered on purpose.
He said: ‘It seems to me highly probable that it was deliberate by people close by and watching.’
Mr Cotter paid tribute to the bravery of the soldiers and marines who risk their lives in such dangerous situations and said he hoped recent developments in protective clothing were proving beneficial.
‘It’s good to hear that the new multi-tier pelvic protection system is being used and is available to all out there.’
He said he would be using his powers as coroner to write a letter to the authorities to check that the new clothing was being made readily available to servicemen in theatre.
He also apologised to Marine Hollington’s family for the length of time it had taken for them to hear their son’s inquest.
Delivering his ruling, Mr Cotter said: ‘Marine Richard Hollington was killed by the enemy while on active service for our country.’
Speaking after the inquest, Mr Hollington said: ‘We said that Richard’s death left a huge numbing hole in the lives of our family and over the last 18 months that has proved to be the case and continues to be so.
‘However, we have been greatly helped by the military support organisations, 40 Commando and the wider Royal Marines family.’
He said the family were hugely touched by the support of friends and family, particularly in fundraising following Marine Hollington’s death.
Referring to some of the tributes paid to his son both immediately after his death and during the inquest, Mr Hollington said: ‘It has been comforting to find out how highly regarded Richard was held by all.
‘We always have been and always will be immensely proud and desperately sad at his death. We miss him terribly.’
The family welcomed the coroner’s ruling, he said, and again thanked his son’s colleagues for their ‘sterling efforts”’ trying to save his son, and medical staff involved.
He went on: ‘Finally I would like to draw your attention to the coroner’s closing remarks about the cruel length of time it can take to hold a military casualty inquest.
‘It seems to me that it would not cost a great deal and I call on the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Justice to make it happen.’