Private, 21, was ‘reduced to tears’ by sergeant major before he was found dead, inquest hears

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The parents of a young soldier who died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Kabul had been ‘reduced to tears’ by his sergeant major hours earlier, an inquest has heard. 

Private Joseph Berry, 21, was serving with ‘A’ Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the time of his death on February 22, 2020.

He had received a telling off from his sergeant major earlier that day after having broken weapons that left him teary eyed, the inquest at Warrington Coroner’s Court heard.

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He was found dead later that day next to his Glock 9mm pistol, and forensic and pathology experts concluded the private died from a gunshot wound with features ‘strongly supportive of self-infliction’. 

News of his death came as a surprise to family, who said the private had no history of depression or mental health issues. 

His mother, Lisa Snow, said her son had wanted to join the Paras since the age of 14.

She said: ‘He was loving it, he was living his dream. He wanted to see the world and hoped the Army would help him do that.’

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Private Joseph Berry, 21, was serving with 'A' Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the time of his death on February 22, 2020. He was found dead next to his Glock 9mm pistol, and forensic and pathology experts concluded the private died from a gunshot wound with features 'strongly supportive of self-infliction'

Private Joseph Berry, 21, was serving with ‘A’ Company of the 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the time of his death on February 22, 2020. He was found dead next to his Glock 9mm pistol, and forensic and pathology experts concluded the private died from a gunshot wound with features ‘strongly supportive of self-infliction’

Pte Berry, who grew up in Crewe, Cheshire, was found dead at the New Kabul camp compound with his 9mm Glock pistol nearby and a note for his family in his notebook.

Ms Snow, along with other witnesses, said her son was making plans for the future, and had never suffered from depression or talked about self-harm.

She said that in his last WhatsApp message to her, the day before his death, he had said he was ‘exceptionally happy today’.

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His father, RAF Squadron Leader Nick Berry, joked he was ‘massively disappointed’ his son decided to wear the ‘wrong cap badge’ and join the Army.

Mr Berry said he had ‘beat himself up’ thinking if he had missed any signs, but said: ‘There was nothing there.’

Alan Moore, Senior Coroner for Cheshire, replied: ‘Sometimes there isn’t.’ 

The hearing was told how Pte Berry had used the wrong piece of kit to clean the barrel of his gun and got cloth stuck in the muzzle.

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He had also broken procedure by unloading and making safe his SA80 rifle in his living quarters rather than while being supervised in a designated area as directed by orders ‘from on high’.

The inquest heard Pte Berry, who was described as ‘very well liked’ but who also hated to be embarrassed or be in the spotlight, was teary eyed when told off by Sergeant Major Christopher Groves.

Mr Moore said to SM Groves he knew of a ‘more colourful military term’ for a telling off that was not a ‘cosy chat’.

Michael Davison, representing Pte Berry’s family, asked SM Groves: ‘Did that concern you, when he was teary eyed?’

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SM Groves replied: ‘It did. And that’s why I spoke to him, said we all make mistakes. He nodded, said, ‘OK sir’, and went about the rest of his day.’

The Glock 17 9mm pistol has been in service with the British Army since 2013. Private Berry was found dead with his pistol nearby and a note for his family in his notebook.

The Glock 17 9mm pistol has been in service with the British Army since 2013. Private Berry was found dead with his pistol nearby and a note for his family in his notebook.

SM Groves told Pte Berry he would deal with the matter later but shortly afterwards the private sent a text message to his friend, Lance Corporal Josh Brown, detailing a specific location on the base and reading: ‘Thanks for being such a good friend. I wish I was better in everything. Love you man.’

SM Groves and others dashed to the scene where Private Kyle Smith found the body and a padre and a medical officer were called.

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Forensic and pathology experts concluded Pte Berry died from a gunshot wound with features ‘strongly supportive of self-infliction’.

Sergeant Christopher Belk, who investigated for the Royal Military Police (RMP), said writing in a notebook found at the scene ‘indicated an intention on Private Berry’s part to take his own life’.

Asked if there was any evidence of bullying, he said: ‘Absolutely not. He was someone well liked across the regiment. He specifically states there’s nothing untoward from the Army side.’

Mr Berry said his son joined the Paras ‘because they were the best, and added that he was ‘incredibly proud of what he did and what he was’. 

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‘Sat here as a parent, I’m just so proud.’ 

Private Berry’s brother, Mark Smith, said: ‘He’d always go out of his way to make people happy. He knew he wanted to join the army and he always wanted to be the best of the best, which is why he joined the paratroopers.

‘He even recovered from pneumonia and passed all his qualifications despite having spent weeks in bed.’

Berry was born and raised in Crewe, Cheshire, and began training with The Parachute Regiment Training Company in September 2017.

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A statement given by the British Army, which said Berry had died of a ‘non-battle injury’, described the private as ‘an optimistic, capable, and compassionate soldier’ who showed great promise. 

The hearing was adjourned until Thursday morning.

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