Northern Ireland

County Down army base was 'isolated', inquest hears

Lance Corporal James Ross Image copyright PA
Image caption Lance Corporal James Ross who died at Ballykinler Army base

The mother of a soldier who died at Ballykinler army base has questioned why soldiers who served in Afghanistan were stationed there.

Linda Ketcher said she did not believe it was acceptable that young men who had served in the country were sent to the "isolated" barracks.

She was speaking at an inquest into the death of Lance Corporal James Ross, 30 in December 2012.

The inquest is also examining the death of London Rifleman Darren Mitchell, 20.

Both men died from suspected suicide within three months of each other at Ballykinler in County Down.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Rifleman Darren Mitchell, who also died at Ballykinler Army base

At Ballymena courthouse, Ms Ketcher said her son was "gutted" to be posted to Ballykinler after his second tour of Afghanistan from October 2011 to April 2012 and that he would have been able to "access family more easily" if he had been closer to home.

Ms Ketcher also said her son told her about a number of incidents in Afghanistan which had affected him.

She told the inquest on one occasion an Afghan man came running towards him carrying something in a basket.

"As he approached the man opened the blanket, a little girl was in there who was badly injured," she said.

Ms Ketcher said it was an incident that had been "very distressing" for her son.

Earlier the inquest heard how Lance Corporal Ross had been making plans to come home to Leeds for a late Christmas before his death.

Image caption A young soldier who died at Ballykinler Army base found it isolated, an inquest has heard

Ms Ketcher said he had cancelled Christmas leave to allow others to spend time with their children and to "catch up on admin."

She also said that he had made plans to visit Paris with his girlfriend for New Year's and had told his family to leave his presents "under the tree".

The soldier's mother said that her son had been pleased at his recent promotion to Lance Corporal.

Ms Ketcher also told the inquest that while attending her son's funeral she felt that Ministry of Defence personnel were trying to prevent her from speaking to her son's friends.

She said that whenever one of his friends came to speak to her they were interrupted by a more senior member of staff.

Image caption A lookout at Ballykinler barracks where two soldiers died within three months

"A few of them were visibly upset and quite tearful," she said.

Ms Ketcher also questioned why there were two incidents where young men appeared to take their own lives within three months of each other at the barracks.

"We are asking, is there adequate care there?"