SAFETY improvements should have been made to an Afghanistan war base before a North-East soldier was killed, colleagues told an inquest today (Tuesday, January 29).

Corporal Andrew Roberts lost his life alongside comrade, Private Ratu Manasa Silibaravi, when they were hit by enemy fire while inside the Forward Operating Base (FOB) Ouellette in the northern part of Nahr-e-Saraj district in Helmand province on May 4 last year.

At his funeral, more than 500 colleagues, family and friends packed into Middlesbrough Town Hall to hear the 32-yearold father-of-three described as a hugely respected member of a very close fighting unit, who always took the lead.

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Today, colleagues Lance Corporal Neil Mackie and Private James Gosling hit out saying improvements that were made after the deaths of their colleagues should have been made sooner when they appeared before Oxford Coroner’s Court.

They told the hearing fortifications around the base were insufficient prior to the attack but were improved in the wake of the soldiers’ deaths.

Lieutenant Leigh Rickards (CORR) also said protection should have been better.

“It could have been better and it is unfortunate it’s taken an event like this for it to change.”

The base was previously attacked on March 11 when shelling landed 100 yards outside and on March 21 when mortars landed about 60 yards away.

The inquest heard that on the day of the fatal assault a surveillance balloon, which provides panoramic cover, was not working.

Army investigations established that the mortar was fired from about 1.5 miles away from a recoil-less anti-tank gun.

Three rounds were fired.

Two landed outside the compound, one landed inside, killing the two men and injuring six others.

The inquest heard how Cpl Roberts died from multiple blast injuries including lung injuries and a damaged aorta. The pathologist who examined his body said if he had worn his protective body gear, it would not have covered his blast injuries.

Fijian Pte Silibaravi’s major organs were devastated in the shelling and the pathologist noted body armour might have resulted in less severe injuries - though it was speculation.

The coroner recorded verdicts of unlawful killing while on active service.

Outside the court, Mr Roberts said his son "loved life and loved his job and was full of devilment".

He added: “The Army needs to get its act together and look after the lads better.”