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Norfolk marine died a hero - inquest

PUBLISHED: 01:01 03 September 2009 | UPDATED: 11:51 06 July 2010

L/Cpl Benjamin Whatley who was killed in Afghanistan. Picture: EDP library.

L/Cpl Benjamin Whatley who was killed in Afghanistan. Picture: EDP library.

A young Norfolk marine died a hero when he was shot dead in Afghanistan during "intense" fire on Christmas Eve, a coroner said yesterday.

Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, 20, from Tittleshall, near Fakenham, was fighting against the Taliban in Helmand Province on December 24, 2008, when he was fatally wounded.

A young Norfolk marine died a hero when he was shot dead in Afghanistan during “intense” fire on Christmas Eve, a coroner said yesterday.

Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, 20, from Tittleshall, near Fakenham, was fighting against the Taliban in Helmand Province on December 24, 2008, when he was fatally wounded.

At the inquest, at King's Lynn County Court, Greater Norfolk Coroner William Armstrong said L/Cpl Whatley died from a shot to the neck while defending a bridge.

“Ben's parents have raised a considerable amount of money for Help for Heroes. There's only one hero we are talking about today and that hero is Ben,” said Mr Armstrong.

“I do want to express my deepest sympathy to Ben's parents, Teresa and Sam, and his brother Luke, all his friends and all his colleagues. They can be very proud of him.”

L/Cpl Whatley, who served with the Plymouth-based 42 Commando Royal Marines, died while defending a bridge in preparation for a convoy to pass, the inquest heard.

Troops on foot had secured the bridge at about 6am and set up sentry duties while they rested and ate, and waited for the convoy to arrive.

But enemy fire was detected at about 10.45am and the convoy that would have offered further support had been held up after finding a roadside bomb.

L/Cpl Whatley had been on the roof of a defensive compound and moved forward to fire a shoulder-launched rocket when he was shot by Taliban insurgents.

He had gone on to the roof because, as one of the tallest marines, he was able to get up quickly.

Major Richard Cantrill, officer commanding Lima Company, 42 Commando, told the inquest that the troops had secured the compound before the enemy opened fire.

“If we hadn't been on the roofs we would not have been able to return fire and gain the initiative. We had some time to prepare the roof positions,” he said.

The hearing was told that L/Cpl Whatley had first been ordered to re-supply L/Cpl Paul Nicholls with ammunition on the roof, and was then handed a grenade launcher.

But the range was not long enough so he was given the shoulder launched rocket instead. The inquest heard that, due to the back blast of the rocket, L/Cpl Whatley had crawled forward into position to fire it.

He was given emergency medical attention immediately after he was shot.

Cpl Luke Colman, who had known L/Cpl Whatley for just under a year, was on a higher part of the compound roof during fire.

“There was a lot of movement with people getting ammunition on the roof,” he told the inquest.

“Ben moved forward to try and gain the initiative by firing the rocket. I was aware of him moving forward and aware of him slumped over and the shout of 'man down'. He had been hit.”

Cpl Colman, like all those giving evidence, spoke highly of his fellow marine. “He was a great bloke, we got on really well,” he said. “All the lads loved him and would've done anything for him.”

L/Cpl Nicholls said: “He was a really good lad and brought a lot of morale among the troops to pick everyone up.”

Hundreds attended a sponsored walk from Glebe House School, Hunstanton, organised by L/Cpl Whatley's parents in April to raise money for Help for Heroes.

He was a pupil at Glebe and was inspired to become a marine while taking part in a similar walk for leavers.

Coroner William Armstrong added that L/Cpl Whatley was a fine soldier and well-respected in the marines.

“It appears from the evidence given today that the firing was intense,” added Mr Armstrong.

“Ben was seen crawling forward towards the edge of the roof and raised himself slightly to launch and then lurched back. It was apparent he had been shot at about 11.39am.”

He concluded that L/Cpl Whatley had been killed by opposing forces while on active military service.

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