County Down soldier shot dead in 'accident' in Afghanistan
- 15 February 2012
- From the section Northern Ireland
A soldier killed his best friend in a "tragic accident" in Afghanistan while checking his weapon, an inquest has heard.
Ranger David Dalzell, from Bangor in County Down, of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, died from a single shot to the chest last February.
His friend, Ranger Sean Barry, had failed to notice a magazine was still attached to his rifle and a shot was fired.
Ranger Dalzell died instantly.
The 20-year-old and his colleagues had just returned 20 minutes earlier from a patrol in the Nad-e-Ali district of Helmand and were relaxing when the incident happened on 4 February.
The inquest heard that Ranger Barry had stripped and cleaned his SA-80 rifle in an attempt to stop the safety catch and magazine sticking.
The inquest heard that after the shot was fired, Ranger Barry was in a state of shock and screamed: "I've killed him, I've killed him."
Ranger Barry, who went through basic training at Catterick and joined The Royal Irish Regiment alongside Ranger Dalzell, had noticed the problem with his rifle following morning patrol.
To clean the weapon, he sat at the end of a bench at the front end of an accommodation tent facing outwards towards where Ranger Dalzell was helping to put up a flag pole.
"When it was issued we were told to clean it and make sure we were happy with it and it was functioning," Ranger Barry said.
"I got out my cleaning kit and laid it on the table... I went through each piece individually, cleaned the whole weapon.
"When it had been stripped it was still hard to move so I used a bit of oil to free it up.
"I put the magazine on and off again making sure the oil was making it easier to come on and off."
Ranger Barry then went on to carry out a functioning test.
He told the court this was always done with the magazine - which contained live ammunition - off the weapon.
"I did not realise the magazine was still attached," Ranger Barry said.
Asked if the rifle was pointed in a safe direction, he simply replied: "No."
"I was expecting just a click, but the force when it went off was a big shock to the system," Ranger Barry said.
The shot was fired out of the open accommodation tent and hit Ranger Dalzell, who was not wearing any body armour, in the chest.
Ranger Dalzell, who was unresponsive, was attended to by medics and air-lifted to the field hospital at Camp Bastion where he was declared dead.
Ranger Barry had been working since 0300 GMT and went out on patrol at 0530 GMT returning around 1100 GMT.
"We were tired for four or five months, so we got used to it, but I'd never use that as an excuse," Ranger Barry said.
"There were days where you were tired, but that was our job. It (weapons handling) is trained into you. When you're confident and you've done it a few times it does become second nature to you, but I'm not using that as an excuse."
Ranger Barry described his friendship with Ranger Dalzell as "brilliant".
"He was one of my best mates," he said.
Along with two other soldiers, the men had been together through training and were deployed to Afghanistan in September 2010.
"We had nobody but ourselves to support each other, if we needed someone to talk to we would rely on each other," Ranger Barry said.
Wiltshire coroner David Ridley recorded a narrative verdict.
Speaking after the inquest at Trowbridge Coroner's Court in Wiltshire, Ranger Dalzell's father, Gordon, said it had been a "tragic accident".
Ranger Barry pleaded guilty at a court martial to a charge of negligently performing a duty while handling a service rifle causing the unintended discharge of a round.
He was sentenced to six months detention suspended for a year.