Soldier was 'shot dead by accident'

James Wilkinson

James Wilkinson

First published in News
Last updated

A PROMISING young soldier was accidentally shot dead when his colleagues removed the barrel from a machine gun as it pointed directly at him, a court martial heard.

Fusilier James Wilkinson, aged 21, from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF), was killed by the negligence of his own men on a live firing exercise in Kenya, it is alleged.

His section commander, Corporal Colin Bell, had removed the barrel from a machine gun to inspect a stoppage when it fired off a round, shooting Fusilier Wilkinson in the neck.

The soldier, who had been living in the Spring Lane area of Radcliffe with his wife Sarah, was killed by the unintentional discharge on the firing range.

A full military funeral was held at St Thomas and St John’s Church in Radcliffe, just five months after his wedding to Sarah had been held there.

She was seven months’ pregnant with the couple's first child at the time of his death and has since given birth to a healthy daughter.

Fusilier Wilkinson and a colleague were manning a general purpose machine gun in the mock battle for more than 100 troops in scorching hot terrain, Bulford military court centre, in Wiltshire, was told on Monday.

To their right, Fusilier Aaron Davenport, a gunner, and Fusilier Renaldo Nelson, a controller, also from 2RRF, were operating another, watched by their safety supervisor Cpl Bell.

This gun jammed and would not fire — known in military terms as a “hard cock” and makes it impossible to check if the firearm is unloaded.

But instead of following safety procedure and calling in an armourer to fix it, Cpl Bell got Davenport and Nelson to remove the weapon from its position and took it apart himself.

He placed the gun on the ground, pointing directly at the gun team, and removed the barrel.

Troops were alerted to Wilkinson, hailed as an exceptionally fit soldier with "long term potential" by the Ministry of Defence (MOD), being down by someone shouting "Stop! Stop! Stop!", it was heard.

Now three of his comrades — Davenport, Nelson and Staff Sergeant Patrick Price, from the Scots Dragoon Guards — are on trial for negligently performing a duty. They have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutor Lieutenant Colonel Callum Cowx said the "tragic case" raised issues of "basic principles" and "common sense".

Mr Cowx told the five-man jury: "Each of these men failed to do what they were required to do and they each in their own way led to the tragic outcome.

"The Crown's case is about basic principles about basic common sense which we say are commonly understood by anyone wearing this Army uniform.

"It is about basic duties expected of a safety supervisor on live firing exercises.

"James Wilkinson had the expectation that they would carry out their responsibilities and look after his safety.

"They failed to do so, they were negligent of their duty and as a consequence of their collective action, James Wilkinson died.”

Mrs Wilkinson wept in court as she heard details of her husband’s fatal incident on November 26, 2011.

Fusilier Wilkinson, a Manchester United fan, had moved to Whitefield with his parents, Jan and Rob, in 2008.

He joined the Army in May 2011 and trained at Catterick, North Yorkshire, before being deployed to Kenya on his first battalion level exercise, Ex Askari Thunder.

The trial continues.

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