A forensic scientist from Wrangle who ‘feared he would die’ when a bomb declared ‘safe’ exploded during routine lab checks has been given a six figure payout from the Ministry of Defence.
Lee Peters, 51, from Wrangle, had been working in the MOD laboratory in Kandahar, Afghanistan, when a small plastic box was bought in for forensic testing and exploded, maiming his left hand and damaging his eye sight.
The forensic and biometric contractor has since retired on medical grounds after winning a negligence case against the MOD.
Mr Peters, who feared he would bleed to death during the explosion, said: “As soon as I heard the bang that day, I was under no illusion as to what I was facing.
“It was like being in a movie-everything went into slow motion. I knew my fingers were blown clean off but I could barely see. I thought if I fainted in there, I would die because there was so much blood.
“I was swearing quite a bit as I shouted for help and one of my colleagues and good friends came to my aid.
It was like being in a movie-everything went into slow motion. I knew my fingers were blown clean off but I could barely see. I thought if I fainted in there, I would die because there was so much blood.Lee Peters
“Initially I wasn’t actually worried about my hand as the pain was on the same level as a punch. It was my sight I was frantic about.
“My eyes were burning and I could barely see. It was like someone had put a cloth sack over my head in the dead of night. That’s how impaired my vision was.”
The 104mm by 38mm opaque container was among a number of items recovered from a compound south of Camp Bastion.
On arrival it was put through the usual clearance tests and declared safe by the Weapons Intelligence Specialist (WIS) who believed it to be an empty box.
Declared as low priority – a green level item – it remained in the lab for seven days before it was tested by Mr Peters.
During his routine checks around 11am on December 3, 2011, Mr Peters logged its size and construction and checked for finger prints before trying to prise open the lid, which appeared to be heat sealed, with a scalpel.
The chemical weapon ripped away his index, third and ring finger down to the knuckle. It also blew out the palm of his hand and penetrated his eyes with shards of plastic.
It’s now thought the bomb was a Chinese replica of a Russian landmine detonator, a type of explosive device the MOD had identified before as a chemical weapon but failed to pass on as intelligence.
Mr Peters was also told the scanner used by the WIS was faulty and hadn’t been serviced for over two years.
Mr Peters, who had worked in the lab since 2011 and safely tested thousands of items, says: “I feel like a catalogue of errors was made during this incident. The whole thing is dreadful- it just shouldn’t have happened.
“The overriding principal of the lab is that it is a completely safe environment and void of explosives. We only wear simple forensic gear in there as there shouldn’t have been a risk.
“It’s since been told, if that device had gone off as quickly as it was designed to, it would have blown my head clean off.
“I shouldn’t be here today.”
Within half an hour of the horror explosion Mr Peters’s adrenaline run out and the searing hot pain of the remaining part of his hand began to kick in.
He was rushed to hospital where doctors operated for 13 hours to try and save the partial digits.
The top of his thumb had also been blown off and his little finger was shattered and hanging on by the tendon.
After numerous days in hospital, Mr Peters was flown back to the UK and admitted to Queen Mary’s hospital, Paddington, London, where he received further treatment.
The surgeons took a skin graft from his right leg and tattooed right arm. The remainder of the Capricorn star-sign tattoo on his arm has been stretched across what little is left of his hand.
Mr Peters, who lives with his wife, Donna, 49, in Wrangle, said: “All the surgeons did what they could for me. They tried to salvage as much of my hand as possible by covering the three stumps but unfortunately the fingers below the knuckle had already died.
“I had explosive abrasive injuries to my eyes from the shards of plastic as well. Four separate splinters of the box went into my right eye which had to be removed and the cornel scarring has permanently damaged my vision but luckily it healed as much as possible over time.
“Now everything looks like I am looking underwater.
Mr Peters, who suffered with PTSD after the incident has been awarded a six figure sum in a joint settlement agreement.
Employer’s liability lawyer, Tracey Benson, from Slater & Gordon who represented Mr Peters, says: “This is a tragic case.
“My client should never have come into contact with this item.
“Not only did it strip Mr Peters of his career that had spanned over 20 years but his wife had to stop working in order to look after him.
“He has also suffered with PTSD as a result of the incident and had to come to terms with facing the rest of his life with his physical limitations and employment limitations.”
Mr Peters, who had worked for the MOD for over 20 years, added: “My forensic career is over and I really loved what I did. Essentially we were catching criminals and putting a stop to terrorism.
“Now I can just about hold a glass.
“The whole ordeal was also terrifying for my wife and two sons. For the first 24 hours she only knew I had been involved in an explosion that had left me with life altering injuries.
“She also had to leave her job as a PA to look after me and now we are trying to adjust to life. Hopefully one day I can do a job in the same sector again and this won’t happen to anyone else.”
An MoD spokesman said: “We cannot comment on individual cases, but all claims are carefully considered and where the Ministry of Defence has a legal liability to pay compensation we do so.”