Tributes paid to former East Sussex pupil who died while clearing unexploded bombs in Solomon Islands

Tributes have been paid to a former East Sussex pupil who died in the Solomon Islands while clearing unexploded bombs.

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 3:52 pm
Eastbourne Town Hall SUS-210216-141547001

Stephen John Atkinson, 57, died on September 20, 2020 when the explosive he was handling detonated – alongside Australian Trent Lee.

Mr Atkinson, who was known as Luke, worked in the Solomon Islands and Palau as a programme manager at a humanitarian aid NGO.

The Solomon Islands, a World War II battleground in the South Pacific, are littered with thousands of unexploded bombs.

Mr Atkinson, who was born in Singapore to a concert pianist from New Zealand and a doctor from Ireland, was well-travelled and had lived in countries including Kosovo, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Cambodia.

The father-of-one had been brought up in Tunbridge Wells and educated in Frewen College, Northiam.

Friend Ian Hird, who met Mr Atkinson during their studies, said, “Luke loved Africa and always had a great affinity to the continent.”

Mr Atkinson had moved to Rhodesia, which is now Zambia and Zimbabwe, when he was 17-years-old to work as a park ranger.

Mr Hird added, “Luke was very well-read, bright and had intelligence.

“He gained a reputation for being innovative.”

The inquest at Eastbourne Town Hall on Thursday, October 21 heard how Mr Atkinson worked for the United Nations and the Norwegian People’s Aid for a period of time.

Mr Hird also explained how Mr Atkinson would find unexploded ordnances and map them out for the police.

Mr Hird said, “He put the safety of others first and took his responsibility very seriously.”

According to Mr Hird, Mr Atkinson was injured after an explosive he was handling detonated.

Mr Atkinson was left with damage to his ribs, throat and upper body before dying in National Referral Hospital in Honiara, the inquest heard.

Mr Hird said, “He adored his son, who is now 18, and did everything possible to support him.

“He was a great friend and storyteller.

“He worked hard on his friendships and worked hard to stay in touch with people he had met throughout his life.”

East Sussex coroner Alan Craze came to the verdict of death by misadventure.

Mr Craze said, “I think that in many ways we can call this an accident.

“I shall record a conclusion of misadventure.”