AN expert told an inquest yesterday he was surprised that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had not recalled all 30,000 9mm pistols issued to the armed forces before a volunteer soldier was killed in a shooting contest.

The hearing, in Richmond, North Yorkshire, heard how a firing mechanism spring inside Territorial Army medic Andrew Thompson's weapon sheared as he crouched to fire last April at Wathgill Ranges, near Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire.

The fault rendered the gun potentially lethal to anyone who tried to use it.

When Mr Thompson, a 30-year-old RSPCA inspector, tried to clear the apparent misfire, the weapon went off, firing two, possibly three rounds.

One bullet hit Mr Thompson in the leg and another in the head, with the latter proving fatal.

Despite help from colleagues in his unit, 201 Field Hospital, Mr Thompson, who lived in Holmfield, near Halifax, West Yorkshire, was pronounced dead.

Home Office metallurgist David Price questioned why there had been no comprehensive programme to replace the faulty springs.

MoD technical officer Rufus Hunt said records showed that there had been no other fatal accidents involving 9mm pistols, but he confirmed a similar problem had been detected in the past and the weapons had been modified as a result.

However, rather than recalling the weapons so new parts could be fitted, the faulty springs were phased out gradually.

He said that following Mr Thompson's accident, a further warning was issued and examinations identified another three weapons that were potentially dangerous.

Mr Price told the hearing he could not be certain why the spring in Mr Thompson's pistol broke, as microscopic evidence had been destroyed by friction between the parts after they snapped.

However, he said: "If this had been a vehicle component, then the cars would be called back. I am surprised that here, even though this fault was identified, the springs were phased out, rather than the guns being recalled and a change being insisted upon."

North Yorkshire Coroner Jeremy Cave recorded a verdict of accidental death