A humbling death

Corporal David Barnsdale.
Corporal David Barnsdale.

ARMY engineer David Barnsdale was killed by a bomb laid in an area that was thought to have been cleared of explosive devices in Afghanistan, an inquest heard yesterday.

Hatfield Coroner’s Court was told Corporal Barnsdale was killed instantly when he stepped on a pressure plate buried in the sand.

The 24-year-old, of Parsonage Close in Tring, was part of a team of Royal Engineers clearing an area so a checkpoint could be established in Helmand Province.

Corporal Barnsdale, of 33 Engineer Regiment, and fellow soldiers had cleared an area of 80m by 50m and were working their way outwards using metal detectors and spray paint to mark the safe area.

But the court heard as Corporal Barnsdale went to fetch more paint, passing through a supposedly cleared area, he triggered a 20kg bomb designed to immobilise vehicles.

Coroner Edward Thomas told Corporal Barnsdale’s colleagues after they gave evidence: “Nothing could be done for Dave but there were others who were injured. The way you helped them, you just got on with it. It’s very impressive.

“He served his country bravely with great dignity. All of us should be very humbled by what they have done for our country.

“I am satisfied the death occurred through the actions of enemy combatants. I’m going to say he was unlawfully killed whilst on active service.”

The court was told Corporal Barnsdale’s job was to find the bombs using metal detectors and devices able to find voids in the ground and then a disposal squad would be brought in to deal with them. Shortly before his death on October 19 last year three bombs had been discovered in the area and another had detonated and damaged an armoured vehicle.

Sapper Nicholas Edlin, giving evidence, told the court: “He said he had to get the paint. As I turned there was a bang. It took me off my feet.”

The inquest was told bombs were designed with very little metal in them to avoid detection and the battery packs that detonate them, which are detectable, were often buried some distance away, and in this case possibly outside the ‘searched area’.

People are not normally able to trigger pressure plates designed for vehicles, because they are buried deeper, but constant movement in the area may have disturbed the sand over the mechanism, the court heard.

Sgt Tyrone Bowers said: “To this day we can never work out whether the pressure switch was inside or outside the area.”

Mr Thomas said: “It was devastating blast injuries that would have caused him to be instantly unconscious and die. I could spend all day reading tributes.

“He was considered outstanding and everybody was very fond of him.”

Corporal Barnsdale’s father Stephen told the court: “It’s been the worst nine months of our lives.”