THE family of a young guardsman shot dead by a fellow squaddie are demanding answers after an inquest ruled he was unlawfully killed.

Dean Troy Eddy, of Billingham, died from a fatal bullet wound when he was shot through the neck by a drunken off-duty soldier, the court heard.

Mr Eddy's family are still campaigning for justice after they were left devastated when Green Howard John Smith was only sentenced to an 18-month jail term for the killing, at Shackleton barracks, near Londonderry, Northern Ireland in 2003.

They have launched two unsuccessful appeals to overturn the sentence, after Smith was allowed to walk free from court in Belfast because he had spent nine months on remand at an Army base.

Speaking after the inquest at Teesside Coroners' Court, Mr Eddy's father, Stanley, said: "Dean served his country but his country did not serve him.

"We feel completely let down by the Ministry of Defence."

Step-dad Dean Robson added: "There are still questions that we need to ask but we don't think we will ever hear the answers. We want to ensure that no other family has to go through what we have.

"The only thing that we have learnt today is that the rifle was fired from shoulder height. That never came out during the trial.

"So what else is there that we don't know about?

"The fight will continue, we just want justice for Dean. He was a proud soldier and had served his country with honour, yet he was taken away from us.

"He had just turned 21 and had his whole life ahead of him."

Mr Eddy, who had been in the Coldstream Guards for five years, was killed when a round went off and hit him, after Smith, of the Green Howards seized a rifle from a soldier on guard duty and pretended to shoot his colleagues, the court heard.

A report by Detective Sergeant Robert Docherty, of the Northern Ireland constabulary, said witnesses had seen Smith raise the rifle and pull the trigger.

He said: "The weapon discharged a round which struck and fatally wounded Mr Eddy."

Pathologist Dr Mustansir Nurbhai said the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the head.

"The death would have been almost instantaneous in this case," he said. "The entry and exit wound show the gun was probably at shoulder height."

Teesside coroner Michael Sheffield recorded a verdict of unlawful killing.