Soldier "was best in company" inquest hears

Rifleman Sheldon Steel Photo: Calendar

A soldier from Leeds died after he triggered an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan despite 26 of his colleagues walking across the same piece of ground before him, an inquest has heard.

A coroner heard how Rifleman Sheldon Steel, 20, of the 5th Battalion The Rifles, was the second-to-last in a line of soldiers on patrol in Helmand Province when the blast went off on November 27 last year.

The rifleman - described by everyone at the inquest as the best soldier in his company - was on patrol in Babaji, in the Lashkar Gah district, as part of a distraction operation.

As designated sharp-shooter in the patrol he was second-to-last in the line as the patrol crossed arable land near a pumping station.

Leeds Coroner David Hinchliff was told Rifleman Sheldon, who lived all his life in Leeds, suffered unsurvivable injuries in the blast when he stood on the IED.

Major Matthew Baker told the inquest how he saw the explosion from his command post on top of a building. He said: "I saw a large explosion - a column of dust and smoke about 100ft high."

The officer said: "He (Rifleman Sheldon) was the most exceptional individual rifleman in the company. You couldn't have asked for anyone more capable."

Mr Hinchliff recorded a verdict that Rifleman Sheldon was unlawfully killed while on active service in the British Army serving his country in Afghanistan.

The coroner told Rifleman Sheldon's mother, Victoria Fulthorpe, her son was "a fine young man - a very brave young man" and he paid tribute to soldiers who risk their lives in Afghanistan every day.

Mr Hinchliff said: "All of us should be very grateful not only to him (Rifleman Sheldon) but to everybody else who's serving at the moment."