Leicester

RAF gunner Marcin Wojtak unlawfully killed, coroner rules

A mother of a Leicestershire RAF gunner who was killed in Afghanistan has accused the Ministry of Defence (MoD) of "catastrophic failings".

Acting Cpl Marcin Wojtak, 24, from Melton Mowbray, died when his patrol vehicle hit a roadside bomb in Helmand Province on 1 October 2009.

Loughborough Coroner's Court heard he could have survived if he had been in a more heavily-armoured vehicle.

The coroner ruled that Mr Wojtak had been unlawfully killed by insurgents.

'Catastrophic failure'

Before leaving for Afghanistan, the gunner had assured his family he would be driving a Mastiff - a vehicle which can withstand small improvised explosive devices, the coroner heard.

Instead, acting Cpl Wojtak, from 34 Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment, was driving a Vector, an armoured truck with medium underfloor protection.

After the three-day hearing his mother Teresa Woods said: "It's not surprising that someone meets their death in a Vector.

Image caption A decision to phase out Vectors from front line patrols was taken before A/Cpl Wojtak's death

"This vehicle was no longer suitable to deal with the increased threats of Afghanistan, and that was acknowledged as well.

"I feel there has been a catastrophic failure by the government to meet the requirements for our troops.

"Our family is heartbroken in losing Marcin, it is a loss that we will never recover... he paid the ultimate price for our freedom."

His father told the hearing that his son used to joke about the Vectors, describing them as a "coffin on wheels".

The Vectors were withdrawn from Afghanistan six months after acting Cpl Wojtak died.

'Right for mission'

The coroner was told that better armoured Mastiff vehicles arrived two days after his death. He was supposed to collect his much more heavily protected Mastiff that day.

An MoD spokesperson said: "The patrol was essential to force protection and could not be delayed for the 48 hours that it would take for the new Mastiff vehicle to become operational.

"A detailed Royal Military Police Service investigation, confirmed that the Vector vehicle was rightly chosen for the mission because it was designed to withstand the existing bomb threat and offered the agility and terrain accessibility needed to undertake the patrol."

Group Capt Philip Lester, from RAF HQ air command, said after the hearing that the serviceman "did not die in vain".

"Marcin was a brave young man and rose to all the challenges placed before him and his early talent had been recognised with the award of an acting corporal rank."

His girlfriend Samatha Reynolds said they had plans to buy a house and get married.

Acting Cpl Wojtak as described as extremely professional, much respected and a "gentle giant".

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