A lance corporal who accidentally killed his best friend during a game of ‘quick draw’ despite being warned about ‘playing around’ with weapons has been jailed.
Colin Theaker, 30, deliberately pointed the Glock pistol directly at Lance Corporal Scott Hetherington, 22, before pulling the trigger not knowing it was loaded at an Army camp in Iraq.
A court heard Lance Corporal Hetherington, nicknamed ‘Snowball’, said ‘no, no don’t do that’ prior to the shooting at around 4pm on January 2, 2017.
Lance Corporal Colin Theaker (left), 30, who accidentally killed his best friend Scott Hetherington, 22, on January 2, 2017 during a game of ‘quick draw’ despite being warned about ‘playing around’ with weapons has been jailed for three years
He died from a single fatal wound to the lower chest in what was described to the court as a ‘tragic accident’.
The pair, whose relationship was described as ‘brotherly’, had both been ‘playing around’ with their service pistols while cleaning them prior to the fatal shooting.
But in the process, Lance Corporal Theaker had unwittingly made ready his weapon and a round was in the chamber when he pulled the trigger, a court heard.
LCpl Hetherington, a vehicle commander in the Force Protection Platoon, became the first British soldier to have been killed in Iraq since 2009.
The pals were on deployment helping train local soldiers fight Islamic State militants at the time of the fatal shooting in the living accommodation pod they shared together.
LCpl Theaker, who was part of a detachment from 2nd Battlion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS) based at Camp Taji, pleaded guilty to manslaughter by gross negligence last month.
Lance Corporal Hetherington (left) died after Theaker (right) fired a single shot to his lower chest in what was described to the Catterick Garrison court martial centre as a ‘tragic accident’
Yesterday he was jailed for three years after being sentenced at Catterick Garrison court martial centre and dismissed from her Majesty’s service.
Lance Corporal Hetherington’s partner, Savannah Brown had only given birth to their daughter Safaya-Rose three months before the fatal shooting.
He was buried with full military honours in his hometown of Middleton, Greater Mancs., three weeks after his death.
In an emotional victim statement, LCpl Hetherington’s sister Sian told a court: ‘After I was told he died I was heartbroken. When I found out it was Colin I was even more heartbroken.
‘Myself and Scott are siblings but I believe him and Colin are siblings.
‘Him being sentenced is the worst thing that could happen to our family. If he was to be sentenced that’s not justice for me, Scott or his family.’
Lance Corporal Hetherington’s partner Savannah Brown had only given birth to their daughter Safaya-Rose three months before the fatal shooting. Above: Theaker (left) with Lance Corporal Hetherington
In a statement read out to court, LCpl Hetherington’s mother Anne Hetherington added: ‘He [Theaker] made the biggest mistake you can make and he will pay for the rest of his life. He doesn’t need to go to prison.
‘I don’t wish any criminal charges to be brought against him, it was an accident with no malice.’
Prosecuting, Graham Coombes earlier told a court: ‘The background to this case is a very tragic one.
‘On January 2 at approximately 4pm the victim was accidentally shot in the chest and was sadly killed by the accused in their living accommodation.
‘LCpl Hetherington was close friends and their relationship was described as brotherly. They were always play fighting with each other.
‘Prior to the incident both Hetherington and the accused were cleaning their issue rifles and pistols.
‘Both him and Hetherington went to the shower and returned to the room to await a briefing.
‘We heard evidence from Corporal M G Fenton as to a warning that was given beforehand.
‘When assistance arrived the accused was asked what he had been doing which led to Hetherington being shot and said ‘f***ing about with pistols drawing them, I shot my mate’.
‘After the incident, the accused said ‘why it was cocked I don’t know’.’
Corporal Fenton, who was staying in the adjoining pod, heard ‘no, no don’t do that’ less than ten seconds before the gunshot, a court heard.
He said: ‘I came back off a task, took my kit off and just remember sitting on my bed with my back against the wall.
‘I could obviously hear Scott Hetherington and Colin Theaker just messing around and moving about which is what I heard most nights.
‘They were always goofing around and next minute I heard a gunshot which I knew straight away was a gunshot. I knew straight away it was a negligent discharge.
‘So, I remember from that day having some sort of bickering and arguing, it sounded like a lot of moving.
‘I remember Hetherington saying something along the lines of no, no don’t do that not knowing what it referred to.
‘Because of that gunshot it brought into focus what I heard there. I could hear them every night having a laugh.’
LCpl Theaker and LCpl Hetherington had been cleaning their service pistols and were stood on their beds playing a game of ‘quick draw’ before the fatal shooting.
But LCpl Theaker had taken the magazine on and off and a round was in the chamber when he pulled the trigger.
LCpl Theaker came out into the hallway screaming for help, a court heard.
When interviewed, LCpl Theaker, who has no previous convictions, said he did not recall any warning given prior to the shooting.
LCpl Theaker and the victim were close friends and often were seen bickering and play fighting.
Mitigating, Ben Knight said LCpl Theaker has since been diagnosed with PTSD but told a court it was an ‘exceptional case’ given the positive relationship with the victim’s family.
He said: ‘He does not care about going to prison. He is used to a regimental lifestyle, it’s nothing compared to the profound guilt and horror of what he did.’
Passing sentence, Vice judge advocate general of the armed forces, Michael Hunter, presiding with a three-person military board, said: ‘Theaker you are not an immature soldier, you are now 30-years-old.
‘You played around with weapons after you have been clearly and strongly warned not to play around with weapons.
‘We have heard evidence in the course of this trial and have concluded Hetherington himself expressed what could only have been a warning before you shot him dead.
‘It has been contended by your counsel that the weapons training in the services is inadequate and that you were inadequately trained.
‘While there is no evidence before us to substantiate this the military members of the board hope this is unfounded.
‘You do not need to know you do not play around with weapons and point them at someone deliberately and deliberately pull the trigger
‘This is something that any soldier would know whatever the state of their training.
‘You are very fortunate to have the support of the Hetherington family. Their actions on your behalf can only be described as truly noble and generous, something that is not very often seen in courts of law of cases of this nature.