Family comforted after Stephen’s inquest

THE widow of Banbridge soldier Lance Corporal Stephen McKee has said she is comforted to know her husband was in no pain when he died in Afghanistan four months ago.

Carley McKee spoke to the Leader after her husband’s inquest on Friday, and said she and his family have had their minds “put at rest” after months of not knowing exactly how the 27-year-old died.

The inquest, whch took place in Trowbridge in Wiltshire, heard that L/Cpl McKee died almost instantly when a 50kg bomb hit the Jackal he was driving across a dried up river bed in the Dashte area of the Nade Ali district in Helmand Province on March 9.

L/Cpl McKee was thrown 15 feet out of the vehicle during an operation to disrupt insurgents in the area. Three other soldiers who were also travelling in the Jackal suffered minor injuries.

The inquest heard that soldiers had discovered bomb-making equipment and fertiliser - used by insurgents as an explosive - in a compound and seized them.

It was also revealed that the Wadi was an unlikely place for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and nothing on the day had made anyone suspicious or concerned about hidden devices.

Captain Benjamin Davis told the inquest: “Local Afghan nationals had been driving across it all day and there was nothing to suggest there were IEDs. There was no obvious danger signs.”

Captain Davis said that had he, or any of his colleagues, been concerned by the IED threat they would have carried out bomb detection drills.

One of L/Cpl’s comrades Ranger Wayne McCreey, who was also injured in the blast, told the inquest: “Throughout the day before and after the explosion I didn’t see any IED indicators.

“If there had been any presence of IEDs we would either have avoided it or used a Valon (metal detector).”

David Ridley, the coroner, recorded a verdict of unlawful killing while on active service in Afghanistan. He said: “Stephen’s vehicle activated a pressure plate improvised explosive device in the Wadi, which contained between 40kg and 50kg of homemade explosive.

“As a result of the blast Stephen was thrown from the vehicle. Shortly after the blast Stephen was attended by his comrades but it was clear he had sustained injuries incompatible with life.”

Carley, who said Stephen was the “best husband, father, son and brother anyone could ask for” admitted the inquest provided her with some form of closure following his death.

“It went as well as it could have,” she said. “Now we can think of Stephen for the person he was and not wonder about what happened. It has put all our minds at rest and we can now move on with life knowing Stephen was in no pain. We all get great comfort knowing it was a job he loved.”

Carley, who plans to visit Banbridge to commemorate what would have been the couple’s two-year wedding anniversary at the end of this month, said she also feels Stephen is looking after their daughter Keeley in heaven.

“I get great comfort knowing he is with Keeley,” she said, speaking about their daughter who died in 2010 aged less than two days old.

Stephen’s parents Bobby and Heather, brothers Michael, Gareth and Robert, and sisters Kelly and Rebecca issued a statement following the inquest.

They said: “We take comfort from the fact Stephen died doing the job he loved, serving alongside people he loved.

“As a family we would like to thank all those people who have supported us through these dark days with their prayers and offers of condolence and especially the support of Stephen’s other family, The Royal Irish Regiment.”