WIGAN marine Steven “Darbs” Darbyshire was gunned down by Afghan insurgents after he bravely insisted on being the last man back to his patrol base, an inquest heard.
Sergeant Darbyshire, 35, of the 40 Commando Royal Marines, was retracting an infantry footbridge just outside the Almas patrol base in Sangin, Helmand Province, when he suddenly came under heavy enemy fire.
Despite the best efforts of colleagues, who courageously raced to his aid, Sgt Darbyshire had been fatally wounded.
His heartbroken partner Kate, who has now changed her surname to Darbyshire by deed poll, joined fellow devastated family members at an inquest at Bolton Coroner’s Court yesterday.
Generously, the family did not insist on the Springfield father-of-two’s close army colleagues being called to the inquest to give evidence.
But Captain Moira Penman, the incident’s senior investigating officer, told the court how Sgt Darbyshire was just returning to the Almas army compound following a treacherous security patrol when tragedy struck.
She said: “On June 23 Sgt Darbyshire, alongside an interpreter, was leading a patrol to interact with local nationals and gain intelligence on insurgent activity.
“He took them to a compound about 100 metres from the patrol base – a journey which took them about an hour, because of metal detector drills along the route.
“On their way back, the patrol crossed an extendable footbridge over a canal.
“Sgt Darbyshire had got his guys back to the base, and was the last man out as he retracted the bridge.
“This left him exposed to danger, because he had ensured that his soldiers had got back to safety.”
As Sgt Darbyshire retracted the bridge, a volley of gunshots were fired by insurgents from an area known colloquially as “The Graveyard”.
Forensic firearms examiner Anne Kiernan confirmed a round of 7.62x54 calibre bullets – most likely shot from a Russian Dragunov rifle used by enemy forces – had ricocheted off the footbridge, before hitting Sgt Darbyshire.
Royal Marine Jack Lithgow immediately raced to his friend to try to drag Sgt Darbyshire to safety off the canal bank, and marine medic Lance Corporal Jonathon Ratcliffe desperately tried to save his colleague’s life while under heavy enemy fire.
FULL STORY IN THE WIGAN EVENING POST (THURSDAY) ...