Inquest Into Soldier's Death

A Territorial Army soldier was shot dead in Afghanistan as he prepared to defuse an improvised explosive device (IED), an inquest has heard.

Sapper William Blanchard, 39, of 101 (City of London) Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), was killed by a single high velocity round that missed his body armour.

The solider was in the Nahr-e Saraj North district of Helmand province during a day of hard fighting and was taking part in only his second defusing job when he was shot, the hearing in Portsmouth heard.

He was serving with the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force and was attending the scene of a suspect device that had not gone off when he died on October 30 last year.

Lance Corporal Tony Field was working with Sapper Blanchard and the pair were preparing to deal with the IED.

He told the hearing that Sapper Blanchard was taking things out of a rucksack when he heard ''a crack, a whizz and a thud'' close by.

''I turned to look and Will was falling back. I rushed to help him. He was moaning and gasping and he managed to say 'underneath','' he explained.

Soon, several other soldiers and medics came over and found a gunshot wound that had entered the hem of his body armour on the left upper shoulder and exited under his right armpit causing catastrophic injuries he could not survive.

The hearing was also told that medics tried to help Sapper Blanchard while under intense fire from insurgents.

Combat medic Lance Corporal Francis Ward from the Irish Guards described the day as one to forget as his unit was under constant fire and ambush as they tried to enter a ''green zone'' area of trees.

''It's fortunate that only one person was hurt the whole day. We had people getting shot in the radio. We had someone step on an IED - that's three hurt. The day was just horrible. I cannot explain what a bad day that was.''

Another guardsman, Lance Corporal Wayne Golding, described his unit as being in a ''360 degrees firefight'' that had calmed down when Sapper Blanchard arrived, but soon escalated when he was shot.

He explained it was Taliban tactics to wait for bomb disposal to arrive, so that it could be exploited.

The hearing heard that Sapper Blanchard was wearing the latest body armour and it was correctly worn.

Recording a verdict that the soldier was unlawfully killed while on active service, Portsmouth Coroner David Horsley said Sapper Blanchard was doing ''a hero's job''.

''He was hit in a location that no body armour could or ever would be able to cover,'' he said.

Sapper Blanchard was a Ministry of Defence radiation protection officer by profession and a science graduate. He had been in Afghanistan for six weeks.

He leaves behind his widow Suzanne, who attended the inquest with other family members, and his son and daughter, Tom and Lucy.

Following his death, Mrs Blanchard said:

''Will was a wonderful husband, son, brother, father, brother-in-law, son-in-law and friend.

''Sorely missed; always in our hearts, never forgotten by his devastated family, friends and colleagues and his beloved wife.''

His funeral was held at Portsmouth's Anglican Cathedral, where the sermon was delivered by his father, the Rev Canon Laurie Blanchard, who is the canon of Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire.

Sapper Blanchard was also a scout leader with the Warsash Sea Scout Group, based in Southampton.