Tank blast inquiry to last nine months

Corporal Darren Neilson
Corporal Darren Neilson
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An experienced tank commander from Preston was one of two soldiers killed after their armoured vehicle blew up during a training exercise on a firing range two weeks ago, an inquest was told.

Corporal Darren “Daz” Neilson, whose family home was in Walton-le-Dale, died in hospital the day after the explosion after suffering a cardiac arrest as a result of blast-related injuries.

Cpl Darren 'Daz' Neilson

Cpl Darren 'Daz' Neilson

His colleague, Cpl Matthew Hatfield, 27, from Wiltshire also died in hospital the day after the tragedy. A provisional cause of death in his case was “burns.”

Darren, 31, married to Jemma and with a seven-year-old daughter, was the commander of the Challenger 2 during a live firing exercise at the Castlemarton range in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

DCI Ross Evans, of Dyfed Powys Police, said it was believed Cpl Neilson had been “positioned within the turret” when the blast happened. Cpl Hatfield was the armoured vehicle’s operator and was loading ammunition in the tank.

Both men, who served with the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), were experienced career soldiers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In all four men were taken to hospital after the explosion. The tank was not hit by a shell.

Lt Col Simon Ridgway, commanding officer of the RTR, said: “They were both exceptionally talented soldiers who loved what they did. The regiment has lost two real characters.”

Of Darren he said: “He was a real character within his crew, troop, squadron and the regiment and he had the respect of all those he worked with due to his professionalism, easy going nature and natural leadership style.

“Because of his character ‘Daz’ was selected to be part of the Army Recruiting Team in Preston.”

A police-led inquiry is expected to take until February to complete. The full inquest will be held in July 2018.