A Doncaster soldier was killed by a Taliban bomb when a convoy took a route which had not been properly cleared by a US Army unit, an inquest heard.
Sgt Lee Davidson’s company commander said he went along the route in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, in September last year because he thought it was the safest but added: “I made the call wrongly, but I made it in good faith.”
The Ridgeback armoured vehicle that Sgt Davidson was commanding was blown onto its roof by 70-80kg of explosives buried under the track which the convoy of American, British and Danish troops was driving along.
It had been activated by insurgents using a command cable which had been buried at least four inches below the ground and had not been located by the American unit sweeping the track with special detector vehicles.
Sgt Davidson, aged 32, of the Light Dragoons, who was from Thorne, died from blast injuries because he was looking out of a hatch to get a better view of the terrain.
A US Army officer, identified only as Soldier 5, gave written evidence that their technique of clearing a route was to drive along it with their equipment which can detect improvised explosive devices but they do not get out of the vehicles to carry out visual searches for disturbed ground or other signs of insurgent activity.
Sgt Davidson’s company commander, Maj Christopher Sargent, said they had not travelled along the route before but knew there had been a high incidence of IEDs. “I chose that route because at the time I thought it was the safest route. I was following a route which I thought had been proven.
“I would have walked that route on foot if I’d known what I know now. I went along that route in good faith.”
Comrades of Sgt Davidson who were in the Ridgeback described how ‘it went dark’ when the IED exploded and they ended up upside down in the vehicle. Sgt Davidson was barely breathing and died before reaching Camp Bastion hospital.
An investigation carried out by IED expert Lt Col Carl Frankland discovered the buried cable stretched about 200m from the bomb crater to a firing point.
He said the main body of the Ridgeback survived the blast, which would have completely destroyed one of the Danish troop carriers following behind.
Lt Col Frankland described the location as a ‘vulnerable position’ and it would have been ‘prudent’ for the bomb detectors to dismount to search for wires and signs of activity.
“If they had discovered the command wire and cut it they may have been able to remove that IED.” He said the Americans had a ‘different mindset’ and the advice they gave about the route was ‘possibly inappropriate’.
Since Sgt Davidson’s death British officers have been given further advice on how to assess what clearance of convoy routes is needed so they can take it higher up the chain of command to get what they want.
Reaching a conclusion that Sgt Davidson was unlawfully killed in action, Coroner Nicola Mundy said the convoy was clearly on a ‘high risk’ route and there had been no discussion of safer alternatives which might have been adopted.
The fact that the route had not been monitored round the clock by Danish troops had given the insurgents time to plant the IED.
After the inquest, the soldier’s widow, Samantha, said the family were satisfied everything had been done to save Lee’s life. “We are so very proud of him and he lives on in his family and especially his three children.”