THE families of two Tidworth-based soldiers killed in a tank blast on an Army firing range have paid tribute to their loved ones during an inquest into their deaths.

Corporals Matthew Hatfield and Darren Neilson, both of the Royal Tank Regiment (RTR), died of their injuries after an explosion in their tank at the Castlemartin firing ranges, Pembrokeshire, Wales, on June 14, 2017.

Two other soldiers, Warrant Officer Stuart Lawson and Trooper Michael Warren, survived the blast.

Cpl Neilson, 31 and father-of-one, of Preston, Lancashire, was the tank commander and was thrown from Challenger 2 during the blast, while Cpl Hatfield, 27, from Amesbury, Wiltshire, was loading ammunition.

Cpl Hatfield's fiancée Jill McBride - accompanied by his wife Abigail Hatfield, from whom he was separated but had a daughter Lexi - read a tribute.

Ms McBride said: "When Matthew came into my life, the family felt complete - I no longer had to search for anything to fulfil a happy life."

She added he was a "natural father to his daughter - a son, a brother and dedicated partner and loyal friend" who had also helped run the local Army cadets.

Reading his young daughter's words, she added: "Daddy was the best daddy, he was a really good soldier and loved to show me his tanks."

Jemma Neilson, Cpl Neilson's wife, also read a statement in tribute to the spouse she first met at a Blackburn Ice Rink, aged just 14, saying she was "proud to say I am the wife of Corporal Darren Neilson".

She added: "He was the most handsome and perfect man I could ever wish to meet.

"He was my world, my soulmate, best friend and hero.”

On Tuesday the inquest was told that there had never been a similar incident involving the British Army's main battle tank in nearly 20 years of service.

An Army training officer, Sergeant Alexander Ahtom, told the coroner he "never thought it possible" the gun could be fired without the seal being in the barrel.

The Challenger 2 specialist also told the hearing he disagreed "completely" with a finding of the Ministry of Defence's (MoD) joint service inquiry panel, which looked into the blast.

The inquest continues.