Soldiers describe terrifying attack

PUBLISHED: 10:59 05 October 2006 | UPDATED: 09:52 31 May 2010

TWO soldiers told an inquest of their terrifying ordeal at the hands of Iraqi insurgents who captured and killed two of their colleagues more than three years ago. The remains of Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and 24 year-old Sapper Luke Allsopp, whose

TWO soldiers told an inquest of their terrifying ordeal at the hands of Iraqi insurgents who captured and killed two of their colleagues more than three years ago.

The remains of Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, and 24 year-old Sapper Luke Allsopp, whose regiment is based at Carver Barracks, Debden, were found buried in a shallow grave near Al Zubayr, outside Basra in southern Iraq nearly a month after they were attacked on March 23, 2003.

On Friday an inquest into their deaths heard how their Land Rover had been travelling as a convoy of two to carry out bomb disposal in an area previously covered by coalition forces when they were ambushed by men dressed all in black carrying rifles.

L/Cpl Philip John Law, travelling in the vehicle behind the pair, said the convoy sped up as it received incoming fire, but then the vehicle in front was hit by a rocket propelled grenade.

He said: "In that kind of situation to get out to shoot is a pretty bad idea. You just want to try and get out of the area as quickly as you can.

"I didn't see where the RPG came from but there was an explosion, a dust cloud and black smoke just went up."

The inquest, being held in Oxford, heard that L/Cpl Law's SA-AT rifle jammed while his driver, L/Cpl Marcus Clarke's rifle was damaged in the fire-fight.

L/Cpl Clarke told how he kept within 15 metres of Sgt Cullingworth's Land Rover and as they descended into the ambush he heard him shouting over the radio "keep up, keep up".

L/Cpl Clarke, who was hit in the shoulder during the attack, said: "The road then disappeared in a cloud of smoke. We drove into smoke and I was then facing the front of their Land Rover. They were going up the road backwards, off to the right. I thought I was going to hit them and swerved around. We continued and got 15 metres past the first vehicle when we were also hit by RPGs, which spun us round and we crashed."

He said as their attackers began to run towards them, they abandoned their vehicles and took cover in a compound. He said he could hear Sgt Cullingworth calling him some two to three minutes after the ambush started, saying: "Clarkie come back in."

He said sometime later he remembered hearing the continuous firing of an SA80 - the standard issue British Army rifle - but said that normally soldiers were taught to shoot in controlled bursts.

Oxford assistant deputy coroner Andrew Walker asked him: "So this is unusual fire?"

He replied: "Yes."

L/Cpl Clarke and L/Cpl Law were subsequently honoured with a mention in Dispatches.

Sapper Allsopp, from North London, and Sgt Cullingworth, from Essex, were both members of the 33 (EOD) Engineer Regiment - a specialist bomb disposal unit of the Royal Engineers.

Forensic experts examined footage shot by the soldier's attackers then passed to al-Jazeera TV and believe that Sapper Luke Allsopp, 24, was still breathing as he lay surrounded by a crowd.

Pathologists who examined the bodies, which were found just under a month later in shallow graves near the town, told the coroner both had died from gunshot wounds, from at least two different rifles and a pistol.

Dr Nicholas Hunt put the time of ambush at 1.20pm. He said footage - said by a forensic expert to have been shot at around 5.30pm local time - showed Allsopp was still breathing "although apparently close to death".

He said he had sustained a gunshot wound in the heart that would have rendered him unconscious and killed him "relatively rapidly", but it was not possible to say if this was sustained before or after the film was taken.

Ballistics expert Dr Thomas Warlow told the inquest there was no evidence of close-range fire despite the "massive array of injuries". He said: "From the bodies and clothing, there is nothing on any of those that to me indicates very close-range fire - and that is within a metre or so."

Captain Michael Eastough, tasked with giving the group their orders for the day, said he had sent them to clear a radio station to the south of Al Zubayr. He said they had been warned not to enter the town - recognised as a "risky area" but ringed by coalition forces.

The coroner said: "It's difficult to understand how this convoy made its way into an area which was highly risky without encountering any British troops to tell them 'You can't go into this area'.

"If there was a ring around that town, one would have thought that ring consisted of posts around the main entry and exit points?"

Capt Eastough responded: "I can't answer that. I was given the task of showing the road and that's what I did."

The inquest continues.

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