A HIGHLY experienced bomb disposal expert and former Army veteran who died from an explosive left by terrorists in Syria was "a real hero", a coroner sitting at Chester Magistrates Court said.

Father-of-three William Andrew Jones, who grew up in Little Neston and had been living in Poplar Court, Penyffordd, was a senior technical field manager working for contractors Ardan on behalf of California-based bomb disposal firm Tetra Tech.

It was on Sunday, October 21, 2018 when Mr Jones – known to friends and family as Andy – was searching for explosive devices in a building in Raqqa – once held by terrorist group Isis.

The court heard evidence on Thursday, March 19 that it was at 11.23am that day when Mr Jones stepped on a hidden metallic pressure plate, which set off an explosive device.

Mr Jones received terrible injuries and despite the best efforts of medical teams, the 59-year-old was pronounced dead at 11.46am.

Alan Moore, senior coroner for Cheshire, told the packed courtroom it was "very rare" for him to give a meaningful tribute at the conclusion of an inquest, but said Mr Jones was "a real hero".

He had previously noted Mr Jones had an "incredibly impressive CV", having been decorated with the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct while in the Armed Forces.

He had since been working for private contractors on humanitarian projects, working in bomb disposal and making war-torn areas safe for people affected by conflict in Kuwait, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, Mozambique and, most recently, Syria.

Daughter Lucy Jones, giving evidence in court, said Mr Jones would be in contact with the family on Sundays, and would usually talk about life at camp.

She said the family were concerned about health and safety in Mr Jones's job.

She added: "He worked for so many years as a bomb disposal expert, this is hard to fathom."

Steve Firkins was with Mr Jones that day, employed as a team leader and sub-contracted for Tetra Tech.

They had known each other for four days and had already been on an operation at the same building on Thursday, October 18.

They were working on the first floor of the building, which had been hit by an air strike and had areas deemed to be structurally unsafe, and were looking to finish operations when the explosion happened, throwing Mr Firkins on to some stairs.

He told the court he called out for Andy, but could not get a response, and the dust from the explosion was too thick to see anything.

After going to try and rescue him, Mr Firkins saw Mr Jones and thought he was dead. However, when he went to check his pulse, Mr Jones gave a gasp of air.

Fighting back tears, Mr Firkins told the court Mr Jones was unconscious and missing his lower legs. He said he started talking to him to give him reassurance.

Despite the efforts of rescue and medical teams, Mr Jones passed away.

Mr Firkins, a former member of the Armed Forces himself, added: "I have seen and heard lots of things. Andy was one of the most professional people I have worked with. There is nothing I would have changed [in the operation] that day."

An Ardan incident report stated the building in Raqqa had previously been occupied by Isis until being liberated.

It said Mr Jones stepped on the pressure plate in a corridor which set off the device.

David Parry was chief of party, employed by Tetra Tech, and based in northern Iraq when he heard the news Mr Jones had been killed.

He told the court he had known Mr Jones for about 18 months and was "always very impressed by the experience and professionalism" he displayed, and had left "a legacy".

When he was informed about the incident, Mr Parry said he could not believe it and had to email for confirmation.

He told the court Mr Jones had cleared numerous schools and hospitals of incendiary devices during his time working on humanitarian projects.

Counter-terrorism expert Detective Inspector Richard Gilbert said the incident was treated as a terrorism act and one of murder.

It was treated as a criminal investigation and evidence was gathered, but they had been unable to identify the perpetrators who had caused Mr Jones's death.

Coroner Mr Moore said Mr Jones had survived the initial blast but suffered significant injuries and sadly died shortly afterwards.

He gave a narrative conclusion which said Mr Jones had died from severe injuries caused by bomb fragments.

He added: "I heard in evidence from Steve Firkins, who was with [Mr Jones] and said he was one of the most professional people I have worked with.

I heard from David Parry, chief of party, himself a decorated member of the Armed Forces, who paid tribute to his professionalism and 'legacy'.

"That is his word and one I would echo.

"He would talk about the numerous schools and hospitals cleared during his work and he made them safe.

"It's very rare to say this meaningfully; Andy was a real hero. One who worked on numerous humanitarian projects over many years.

"He saved lives and made the world a safer place for those living in the aftermath of armed conflict."