One of the few. A true hero

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As reported in the Daily Telegraph

By Ben Farmer, Defence Correspondent
3:11PM BST 01 Aug 2013

Lance Corporal James Ashworth was shot as he crawled forward under heavy fire to throw his last grenade at a Taliban fighter who had the rest of his team pinned down.

The 23-year-old, of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, dropped his grenade and died from the blast injuries, the inquest heard.

Anne Pember, Northamptonshire Coroner, ruled L/Cpl Ashworth had been unlawfully killed while serving on operations in Afghanistan.

His mother, Kerry, said her son had died doing a job he loved.

She said: “James will be forever in our hearts, thoughts and prayers and we will never get over his passing. But we will stay strong together as a family and along with his friends we will remain positive and celebrate his life at every opportunity as I know that is what he would want us to do.”
Lieutenant-Colonel James Bowder, his commanding officer, described him as “the bravest of soldiers, the best of men”.

He said: “He fought for his friends, put others first and refused to give up.”

The inquest in Kettering heard L/Cpl Ashworth had been part of a team ordered to “kill or capture” a skilled Taliban sniper team which had shot and wounded three British soldiers in the preceding days.

The targets were spotted near a village in Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province, and the strike team, including L/Cpl Ashworth, swooped into the area by helicopter.

The men landed under fire and were soon caught up in fire fights around the village.

Captain Owen Davis, a Royal Marine attached to the platoon, said one insurgent was spotted fleeing into a compound in the village.

As Taliban fighters entered the village to rescue their snipers, a small group of British troops including L/Cpl Ashworth tried to flush the fighter out from the walled compound.

They split up, using grenades to clear likely hiding places. Capt Davis said at one point he was searching a corridor when the insurgent “popped out” levelling a burst of fire at him.

“I returned fire and hit him in the stomach and hip,” he said, but the injured insurgent – holed up in a room, continued to put up a fight and “responded with expletives” when urged to surrender.

The gun battle against the hidden fighter then reached a stalemate. The possibility of using an air strike or rocket launcher to clear the room was ruled out. Captain Michael Dobbin said L/Cpl Ashworth then volunteered to “post a grenade” into the room where the insurgent was hiding.

Capt Dobbin said: “L/Cpl Ashworth suggested that if he moved along a low wall, he would be out of line of sight,”

“He was confident he could get the grenade in the doorway, allowing me and Capt Davis to assault the position.”

Another soldier, L/Cpl Wint, saw L/Cpl Ashworth “crawling along the wall on his belt buckle”.

As he approached the doorway, L/Cpl Wint saw bullets pepper the ground inches from his friend and he called out: “Ash, get out of there”.

L/Cpl Ashworth “did not respond”, then there was a large explosion next to him. L/Cpl Ashworth was airlifted and pronounced dead on arrival at the field hospital at Camp Bastion.

The insurgent was flushed out with grenades and shot dead.

A post-mortem revealed “blast fragment wounds” to L/Cpl Ashworth’s head and body. Dr Nicolas Hunt, forensic pathologist, said he “would not expect him to survive” the injuries and there would have been “virtually instantaneous loss of consciousness”.

Mrs Pember concluded: “James bravely volunteered to throw the last grenade.

“He crouched down by a wall and sadly his body armour was struck by a single gunshot which knocked him to the ground.

“The grenade he had was already primed and detonated next to him.”

She added he was “one of only 10 soldiers to receive the highest honour for gallantry since the Second World War”.

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