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Widow of "hero" tank soldier pays tribute to him

Darren Neilson Photo:

The widow of a "hero" tank soldier killed in an Army tank range blast has spoken of how her family's lives have been "changed forever" after his death.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson, both of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), died of their injuries after an incident in their Challenger 2 at the Castlemartin firing ranges, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on June 14 2017.

Delivering her conclusions on Tuesday after an inquest into the men's death, senior coroner Louise Hunt said the "main cause" was that the gun could be fired when a key component - the bolt vent axial (BVA), which forms an air-tight seal blocking 3,000C gases escaping into the crew turret - was missing.

The blast triggered a fire which engulfed the tank's turret, with deadly consequences.

Cpl Neilson, 31, from Preston, Lancashire, was the tank commander and was thrown from the turret during the blast, while Cpl Hatfield, 27, of Amesbury, Wiltshire, was loading ammunition.

Both men, each a father-of-one, were evacuated from the scene but later died of their injuries.

Two other soldiers inside the tank, Warrant Officer Stuart Lawson and Trooper Michael Warren, were also injured but survived.

Speaking after the inquest, Jemma Neilson, the widow of Cpl Neilson, said:

On the June 14 2017, our lives were changed forever as we learned the catastrophic events that unfolded that day in Castlemartin.

How could it be that two exceptional soldiers could pay the ultimate sacrifice, and lose their lives while training?

As a family we need answers as to how this was allowed to happen in the modern day, where health and safety should be world class.

I am grateful for the thorough investigation by the coroner.

– Jemma Neilson

The Army has said training procedures have since been changed following the incident, and further safety recommendations by the coroner will be looked at.

Speaking of their daughter, Millie, Mrs Neilson said:

No eight-year-old child should ever be told Daddy is never coming home.

Both Darren and Matthew were highly respected individuals within the Royal Tank Regiment as Challenger 2 commanders and gunnery instructors.

They loved their jobs and were gifted soldiers", and had "high standards".

The legacy he leaves behind is that of a hero.

As a family we are honoured to have had him to our lives.

– Jemma Neilson