Blast bad luck that killed ‘Top Dog’ marksman

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A Leeds marksman described by his family as a “true hero” died in a bomb blast while on foot patrol in Afghanistan.

Rifleman Sheldon Steel, of 5th Battalion The Rifles, was killed after stepping on an improvised explosive device while on early morning patrol with D Company, his inquest in Leeds heard.

Coroner David Hinchliff was told the area, in Babaji, in the Lashkar Gah district, had been swept for bombs and more than 20 of his colleagues had walked over the same section of ground before Rifleman Steel activated the device.

The 20-year-old, from Bramley, sustained “unsurvivable injuries” in the incident on November 27 last year.

The inquest heard Rifleman Steel enlisted in the Army to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather.

After joining 5 Rifles he passed his sharp shooters course with ease and won numerous prizes for his marksmanship.

He was named Top Dog – a title bestowed on the best shot.

Major Matthew Baker, Rifleman Steel’s officer commanding, told the inquest Rifleman Steel was at the back of a patrol designed to distract insurgents from an assault being planned on a village.

“He was the most exceptionally able rifleman in the company, he was the right man for the job,” Major Baker said.

“I saw a large explosion and a column of dust and smoke about 100ft high with a distinct green smoke ring at the top,” Major Baker said.

Despite attention from Army medics, Rifleman Steel died shortly after the blast.

In a statement, his mother Wendy Fulthorpe said her son was a “true hero.” Recording a verdict of unlawful killing, Mr Hinchliff said he was “obviously a very fine young man”

He added: “This is not a game, they are not playing soldiers they are doing it for real. We must be grateful for that.”

After the inquest Miss Fulthorpe said: “I miss Sheldon so much, as do others, but would like to say I am very honoured and proud to be his mother and proud of his achievement and of his whole life.”

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