British soldiers Cpl Brent McCarthy and L/Cpl Lee Davies unlawfully killed

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Media captionThe inquest had heard they posed for pictures with their suspected killers

Two British servicemen shot dead by two rogue Afghan policemen were unlawfully killed on active service, a coroner has ruled.

L/Cpl Lee Davies, 27, of Barry, south Wales, and Cpl Brent McCarthy, 25, of Telford, Shropshire, were shot at point-blank range in a hail of bullets.

The incident happened at an Afghan police base in Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province on 12 May last year.

Moments earlier, they had posed for pictures with their suspected killers.

During earlier evidence, it was heard the men were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It also emerged there had been confusion on the day as to which of the men was acting as the "guardian angel" to watch the Afghans.

Recording his verdicts, coroner for Oxfordshire Darren Salter said both men had, in the words of their patrol commander a Lt Benjamin Bardsley, performed "phenomenally" on operations.

It was their commander's belief that the two Afghans, dressed in police uniforms, had staged an "opportunistic" attack on his men, Oxfordshire Coroners' Court heard.

He described both Cpl McCarthy, an RAF policeman, and L/Cpl Davies, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards - who was born in Carmarthen and grew up in Cardigan - as "phenomenal soldiers" fully capable of doing the job.

"I don't know why they were attacked - it may have been the Afghans had been turned by the Taliban in the previous weeks," he added.

"I am sure it was nothing the corporals did. I think it was just wrong time, wrong place with these two Afghans set on what they did."

The Army unit was in the area acting as a police advisory team helping train the Afghan police. It had specifically visited the base that day to ask the local commander about a tip-off that one of his colleagues was working with the Taliban.

Image caption The suspects were photographed on Cpl McCarthy's camera

Mr Bardsley said there had been confusion on the day as his patrol arrived in the police compound as to which of his men was acting as the "guardian angel" to watch the Afghans.

The inquest earlier heard from the soldiers' colleagues Guardsman Joshua Foley, of 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, and Cpl Jo Price who had believed the duty was done on a simple rotation system, with Guardsman Foley stating at one point he had been acting in the role.

But their sergeant Robert Heath told Mr Salter he had specifically tasked L/Cpl Davies with the job.

Mr Bardsley had previously said in a written statement to Army investigators he thought Cpl McCarthy was acting guardian, however when asked about the discrepancy with Sgt Heath's account he replied: "I've got it wrong, clearly."

He added the role was never one he would have allocated to any soldier lower than lance corporal rank.

'Degree of confusion'

Mr Salter asked him: "Do you accept there was a degree of confusion as to who was guardian angel?"

Mr Bardsley responded: "I do accept that there was a degree of confusion on that day."

Later asked by Robert Gregory, counsel for the Davies family, about whether L/Cpl Davies or Cpl McCarthy had been acting in the guardian role on that day, Mr Bardsley said he would have expected one or the other to have been armed and wearing their helmet.

Guardsman Foley said he recalled when he left L/Cpl Davies and Cpl McCarthy to take up position in the guard tower, their weapons were lying "on the concrete slab next to them" but within arm's reach.

The inquest was also shown photographs taken on Cpl McCarthy's camera of the two suspected Afghan killers posing for pictures with the troops which showed both the soldiers had their helmets off.

In another image Cpl McCarthy was pictured side-by-side with one of the Afghans, each holding the other's weapons.

Guardsman Foley recounted how the British had tried to strike up "banter" with the pair although they did not seem to understand what the troops were saying.

Recording a verdict of unlawful killing at the end of the two-day inquest, coroner Mr Salter said it was clear the two men "were fired on by two rogue Afghan policemen without warning".

He added it was "more likely this was an opportunistic attack rather than pre-planned".

Afterwards, the men's families said the inquest had answered some of the questions arising from the deaths of their loved ones, including what level of training they had received regarding the insider threat from Afghan security forces which the men were involved in mentoring at the time of their deaths.

In a statement from L/Cpl Davies's family read out by his cousin Gemma Northover, they said they were "extremely proud" of his service and drew comfort from his colleagues' description as an "outstanding soldier".

Cpl McCarthy's parents John and Sarah said they had discovered through the inquest process that their son was highly valued and well-liked in the unit he served with in Afghanistan, which had gone some way to helping them cope with the pain of their loss.

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