Image ID 2E6HB3P A military vehicle of the Iraqi security forces is driven in the streets of Ramadi, 2016 12042016 CREDIT REUTERS,Alamy Stock Photo
Iraqi forces fought with so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters in Ramadi in 2016 (Picture: Reuters/ Alamy).

Former soldier was unlawfully killed while trying to defuse bomb, coroner finds

Image ID 2E6HB3P A military vehicle of the Iraqi security forces is driven in the streets of Ramadi, 2016 12042016 CREDIT REUTERS,Alamy Stock Photo
Iraqi forces fought with so-called Islamic State (IS) fighters in Ramadi in 2016 (Picture: Reuters/ Alamy).

A British former soldier was unlawfully killed while trying to diffuse a large improvised explosive device (IED) in Iraq, an inquest has concluded.

Stuart Coburn, 43, was working as a contractor for an international mine clearance company in Ramadi when he died in August 2016.

Mr Coburn, a former Army sergeant major, was attempting to neutralise the 100kg bomb inside a large skip when it exploded, Somerset Coroner's Court was told.

The device, which was made from five gas canisters, was accompanied by a radio control trigger – able to be activated by a mobile phone – and a dead man's switch, which could activate via movement.

The so-called Islamic State (IS) left the IED after being driven from the Ramadi area by Iraqi security forces in early 2016.

The skip was cordoned off and left but, as more and more people returned to their homes in Ramadi following IS's withdrawal, the decision was taken to disable the device.

Mr Coburn had served for more than 20 years with the Royal Engineers, been on tours to Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Northern Ireland and was highly experienced at searching and identifying IEDs – but not qualified to deactivate them.

A decorated British Army bomb disposal veteran recently told the Sitrep podcast about his "baptism of fire" when he was sent to clear explosives during the Iraq War.

Coroner's comments

"I am persuaded, on the evidence, that Stu could not have mistakenly believed himself to be qualified," senior coroner Samantha Marsh said.

"He was fully aware that he did not have the required half a year of specialist training or any practical experience to be an IED operator."

Ms Marsh said there was no evidence the device was being watched or Mr Coburn was the direct target, and the explosion was caused due to his interaction with it.

"I am firmly of the opinion, when considering the thrust of the evidence as a whole, that on the balance of probabilities poor decisions were made that an experienced operator would not have made and have directly contributed to Stu's death," she said.

"Put simply, [IS] didn't care who they blew up – they wanted to cause mass destruction.

"I am satisfied that Stu did not possess the relevant high-level threat qualification.

"He could not act as anything but a number two searcher and most certainly could not act as a high-threat operator.

"He was interacting with a device that was above his capabilities, qualifications and experience and this is highlighted by the poor decisions and actions taken that day."

'If something had to be done, he'd do it'

After leaving the Army, Mr Coburn took on contract work training people to find IEDs before being offered work in Iraq until March 2017.

Jenny Coburn, Mr Coburn's wife, told the inquest her husband would never have risked his life or anyone else's.

"He promised me that if he didn't feel safe out there, he'd come back," she said.

"His position there was a search team leader and he would be on site in an advisory role. He promised me he wouldn't be working on the devices himself but telling others what to do.

"I tended to believe him but in the back of my head I knew that if something had to be done, he'd do it.

"I know that he would not put himself at risk on purpose or anybody else.

"If something wasn't safe, he wouldn't send anyone – he would get more information first and get the right equipment in place."

'Our family's rock'

Mrs Coburn added: "During this inquest, there's been a lot of talk regarding Stu's qualifications.

"I couldn't honestly tell you what he did or did not have. What I can tell you is that Stu never put himself or others in unnecessary danger.

"He knew how high profile the contracts out in Iraq were and he knew the eyes of other humanitarian organisations would be watching them and how they performed.

"They were all out there to help the people of Iraq return to their homes and their lives and that is something that Stu felt very strongly about.”

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Coburn said: "Stu was our family's rock. He always knew what to do and was an amazing husband and father.

"Life is incredibly hard without Stu in it, both for me and the children. It certainly has not been an easy journey for them, and they miss their dad terribly, but they are doing themselves, myself and their dad proud.

"It will forever be tough not having my husband by my side, especially as I watch the girls grow. However, we will continue to remember Stu and the impact he had on all of our lives."

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