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TRIBUTES were paid today to two British soldiers who went missing in Iraq and are now confirmed dead. Royal Engineers Staff Sergeant Simon Cullingworth, 36, from north London, and 24-year-old Sapper Luke Allsopp, from Dagenham - both bomb disposal experts - were shot dead after their Land Rover was ambushed on Sunday near the southern Iraqi town of Zubayr.

Sgt Cullingworth, who had been married for 10 years, leaves a widow, Allison, and two sons, James, nine, and three-year-old Jack.

Sapper Allsopp and his girlfriend, Katie, had planned to set up home together on his return from the war.

Today his stepfather Michael Pawsey said: "Luke loved the Army.

It had made him a man."

He added that Luke's mother Christine - who died last August - had been "incredibly proud of her little soldier".

Both men were experienced members of a specialist bomb disposal unit - 33 Engineer Regiment, based at Wimbish, Essex - and between them had served in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Kenya and Cyprus. Their commanding officer, Lt Col Anthony Troulan, said both were "highly capable and well-liked".

The pair were last seen on Sunday before becoming caught up in enemy fire near Al Zubayr, 15 miles outside the second city of Basra.

The bodies of what were said to be two dead British servicemen near their upturned vehicle were later shown on television by the Qatarbased satellite broadcaster Al-Jazeera, prompting condemnation from coalition commanders and politicians - with Tony Blair, on a visit to Camp David, saying the pair had been executed by the Iraqis. Although admitting there was no conclusive proof of how the pair died, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Blair had been right to speak of execution.

Today, however, Sapper Allsopp's sister Nina, 29, claimed that senior officers from her brother's barracks told the family he had been killed instantly in battle. "It makes a big difference to us knowing that he died quickly," she said.

On the visit to America, Mr Blair condemned the deaths as "an act of cruelty beyond comprehension". His official spokesman then told reporters: "Since we don't have the two bodies we cannot be absolutely sure. But every piece of information we have points in the direction of these men having been executed in a very brutal fashion. …


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