A section commander has apologised to the family of a Sussex soldier who he accidentally shot dead while serving in Afghanistan.
Lance Corporal of Horse (LCoH) Mark Kelly admitted that he must have fired the bullet which fatally wounded Lance Corporal (L/Cpl) James Brynin in 2013.
L/Cpl Brynin, 22, of Spiro Close, Pulborough, died when he was shot by friendly fire during service in the area of Kakaran in the Helmand Province on October 15.
Giving evidence at an inquest today, LCoH Kelly said he discharged his riffle after believing he had seen a Taliban fighter posing an immediate threat to another squadron as they, and his own squadron, came under enemy fire.
But after being shown evidence that he had in fact fired on friendly forces at a nearby compound to the east instead of at enemy targets further south, he said he could not offer an explanation as to how he had got his bearings wrong.
LCoH Kelly, a member of the Household Cavalry Regiment who was in charge of a unit of eight, told an inquest at Edes House in Chichester that his squadron had come under enemy fire from the south, so had taken cover at a nearby compound, and then returned fire.
The fire on their compound then became ‘sporadic’, and was instead being focused on a compound to their south east, where L/Cpl Brynin and members of the 14th Signal Regiment (named TAC1) were positioned.
LCoH Kelly said: “I was running up and down my section when I got to Lance Corporal Kruger, who was knelt down next to me, and that’s when I spotted an insurgent who I estimated was about 400 or 500 metres away.
“I could see he had light coloured dish-dash (clothing) and was a male in an area of trees.
“Once I saw him I shouted ‘there’s one’, or something like that.
“Because he was so close I fired four or fire rounds in quick succession.
“When I fired my weapon a lot of dust was created and when it had cleared I looked down my weapon and I couldn’t see him anymore.”
LCoH Kelly said it was then a period of ‘up to four minutes’ before he heard another soldier scream ‘man down’ on the radio.
He said that at no time during or after the incident was he aware that he had killed a colleague.
Asked if he had become disorientated and not fully aware of the compound where fellow British soldiers were located, LCoH Kelly said: “It’s the only possibility I can think of. I never heard on the radio that he (the unit) was moving north.”
There were a number of breaks in the evidence, with L/Cpl Brynin’s family visibly upset throughout.
After accepting for the first time that he had fired the shot which had caused his fellow soldier’s death, LCoH Kelly addressed the family and said: “I’m so terribly sorry.”
In response, a man sitting alongside the family replied: “It’s too late for sorry, just tell the truth.”
LCoH Kelly was then accused of changing the evidence that he had given when questioned about the incident at an earlier date.
Representing the family, Thomas Cokes-Smyth QEB, said LCoH Kelly had told service police he thought he had heard the call over the radio that TAC1 were moving north from the compound just before he fired.
He said that he must have had an idea of his mistake as soon as he heard the call of ‘man down’ and saw green smoke from the location he had been firing.
“Is it not the reality, Lance Corporal of Horse Kelly, that you are changing what you gave in evidence to reduce how serious an error you made?” Mr Cokes-Smyth asked.
“No, not at all,” LCoH Kelly replied.
LCoH Kelly added that he had no idea he had been responsible for L/Cpl Brynin’s death until a much later date.
He added: “I have made a massive mistake. I know I have done wrong because you are telling me that I have.”
The inquest had earlier heard from troop leader Captain Alexander Pickthall, who said he ‘deeply regretted’ learning sometime later that L/Cpl Brynin’s death had been as a result of a member of his unit.
He said after hearing the message on the radio that TAC1 were about to move away from the nearby compound he had ‘eyes on’ them as they headed north towards a line of trees.
He said: “I recall at the next point taking a moment to clarify in my own head what was going on and feeling the situation was under control as much as it could be in those circumstances.
“Following that there was still sporadic fire, I heard what seemed more intense fire and then I remember hearing ‘man down’ in my head set.”
He said he didn’t remember LCoH Kelly firing, or see L/Cpl Brynin fall.
Captain Pickthall told how he immediately took a medic and another member of his troop and broke cover to try to assist his fallen colleague, an action L/Cpl Brynin’s family thanked him for through their representative.
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