A SOLDIER was killed by a single gunshot wound in the head during a security patrol in Afghanistan, an inquest heard.

Marine David Fairbrother, 24, from Beardwood, Blackburn, was at the front of his 42 Kilo Company patrol as it snaked its way through the Khorgajat area of the Nahr-e Saraj District of Helmand province.

He had moved into the lead with a hand-held metal detector when a colleague spotted evidence of a recent improvised explosive device (IED) and raised the threat assessment.

The inquest, at Blackburn Town Hall yesterday, heard from several eye witnesses on the fatal patrol, which had been tasked with providing security for the Afghanistan National Army as they searched compounds for intelligence.

On a ‘zig-zag route’ towards a compound, Cpl Mark Brassington said he detected a ‘change in atmosphere’.

He saw a man on a mobile phone acting suspiciously, and a small boy, aged between 10 and 12 years old, was following the patrol.

L/Cpl Ben Faulkner told the inquest he too saw a local man in his early to mid-20s moving ‘back and forth behind a wall acting suspiciously’.

A white estate car was constantly sounding its horn.

They chose not to use the compound as a base because they were told that women and children were inside.

Instead, they reached a ‘bund’ around 7am on Monday, September 19, but had a ‘very limited view’ because of the height of the cornfields.

After five minutes, there was a short burst of automatic gunfire.

There were shouts of ‘man down’.

Marine Brendon Agnew said: “I saw Dave’s head bow.

I started shooting in the general direction of where I thought the rounds came from.

“Then I unfastened his helmet.

“I could see he had sustained a bullet to his head.”

L/Cpl Faulkner said: “I talked to him and asked him to squeeze my hand, which he did do lightly. He was still breathing.”

An emergency call went out at 7.06am.

The helicopter arrived at 7.23am, but medics pronounced him dead a short time later.

Major Jason Durup, commanding officer of Kilo Company, said he ordered his men to immediately try and catch the insurgent responsible, but they couldn’t find him among the 8ft cornfields.

The inquest heard that all men were wearing the correct equipment.

Blackburn with Darwen, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley coroner Michael Singleton recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.

He said: “We hear very often in the news about operations in Afghanistan and casualties.

“Hearing it from the very people who are there is very poignant.

“I have to say I’m filled with awe at the bravery, the courage, the professionalism and commitment of these young men.

“Mr and Mrs Fairbrother, you must be so proud. So proud.”

Following the hearing, Mne Fairbrother’s mum, Julie, said her son had been ‘very proud’ to serve his country, and thanked Mr Singleton for his ‘kind words’.