A SERGEANT and a corporal have been thrown out of the army for negligence after a young soldier from Whitefield was accidentally shot dead on a firing exercise.
Fusilier James Wilkinson, aged 21, from the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (2RRF), was tragically killed by a machine gun during a mock battle in Kenya.
A judge residing at the court martial in Wiltshire ruled the newly wed’s death under the watch of two senior soldiers had been “wholly and utterly avoidable”, and dismissed them from the force.
And before returning to civilian life, they must also serve lengthy sentences behind bars in military detention.
Fusilier Wilkinson — hailed as an exceptionally fit soldier with ‘long term potential’ by defence chiefs — and a friend were manning a machine gun in the demanding exercise for more than 100 troops.
Section Commander, Corporal Colin Bell, of 2RRF, took the barrel off a jammed machine gun to inspect a stoppage as it pointed directly at Fusilier Wilkinson. The weapon fired off a round, shooting Fusilier Wilkinson, a dad-to-be, in the neck. Colleagues and paramedics rushed to save him, but he died on the firing range.
Staff Sergeant Patrick Price, of the Adjutant General’s Corp, attached to the Scots Dragoon Guards, was a safety supervisor on the Ex Askari Thunder exercise.
He did not intervene and was found guilty of negligently performing a duty at trial. He was given 21 months’ detention.
Bell, aged 29, pleaded guilty to the same charge at an earlier hearing, and was sentenced to 14 months.
Sentencing, Judge Advocate Michael Elsom said: “The tragic death of this young soldier should never have happened, and only happened because you two failed to carry out your duties properly.
“Nothing can ever bring that young husband, father and son back to life, nor can this court do anything to lessen the impact of loss on his family.
“Both of you will live for the rest of your lives knowing that what you did on that fateful day led to the wholly and utterly avoidable death of a young soldier.”
Fusilier Wilkinson’s distraught widow Sarah Wilkinson, aged 23, wept in court. She had been pregnant with their daughter at the time of the incident on November 26, 2011, just five months after they married at St Thomas and John’s Church in Radcliffe. The funeral of the fusilier was held at the same church. Their daughter Annabel was born in February, 2012.
Mrs Wilkinson, who had lived in the Spring Lane area, but has since moved to the Isle of Wight, welcomed the judgment.
Speaking outside court, she said: “This is the best possible outcome we could have got, that James could have got.
“To hear that the judge and panel really took it seriously, when they could have written it off as a mistake, felt really good.”
Manchester United fan Fusilier Wilkinson was born into a serving Army family in Germany and joined the Army in February, 2010 The young couple looked forward to being posted to Cyprus next.
Mrs Wilkinson had earlier told the court she felt robbed of her ‘fairytale ending’.
She said: “I felt that James had been my fairytale ending but all the hopes and dreams we shared can now never happen.
“James had often talked about seeing our unborn daughter take her first steps on the beach in Cyprus.
“I deeply regret that our daughter never got to meet her wonderful father and he missed seeing her first steps and hearing her first words.
“The moment my daughter first wrapped her fingers around my finger it was heartbreaking knowing he will never get to do that.
“I feel my life was taken from me the day he died.”
Fusilier Wilkinson’s parents Jan and Rob Wilkinson, from Whitefield, say they ‘cannot accept’ their son’s death on exercise.
Mrs Wilkinson said: “Since he died, all the days have blurred into one. Grief has overtaken us all.
“I cannot accept how James died. If he had died in operations, I could understand. The exercise should have been stopped three times.”