Afghan veteran who lost both legs shares inspirational story with Maghaberry prisoners

Afghanistan veteran Duncan Slater (left) talks to a prisoner in HMP Maghaberry
Afghanistan veteran Duncan Slater (left) talks to a prisoner in HMP Maghaberry

An inspirational Afghanistan veteran who lost both legs in a bomb blast has spoken to prisoners in a high-security jail about his experience of overcoming adversity.

Duncan Slater, the first double amputee veteran to race to the South Pole and complete the world’s toughest ultramarathon, said he hoped his visit to HMP Maghaberry in Northern Ireland would encourage some prisoners to get their lives back on track.

The ex-RAF platoon sergeant sustained devastating injuries while serving in Afghanistan in 2009 when a roadside bomb blew up his vehicle.

A mark of his amazing recovery came earlier this year when, using high-tech prosthetic legs, he completed the gruelling 156-mile Marathon Des Sables across the Sahara desert.

Mr Slater was also part of the South Pole Allied Challenge in 2013 when three teams of wounded servicemen and women from the UK, US, Australia and Canada trekked to Antarctica in aid of the Walking with the Wounded charity.

“It was back in 2009, while on patrol in the Helmand region of Afghanistan, the vehicle I was travelling in hit an Improvised Explosive Device (IED),” he said.

“I was thrown 40ft by the impact and suffered breakages to my legs, ankles, ribs, lower back, shoulder blade and left arm. The only unbroken part of my body was my right arm. After 12 months of rehab, I had both legs amputated.

“Then I believed my life was really going to be limited. I was told by my doctor that I would never walk or run without pain again. But I was determined to prove otherwise. I wanted to show others that amputees can do anything and I’ve been on a bit of a journey of recovery ever since.”

“I’ve never been into a prison before and didn’t know quite what to expect - and I don’t mean that in a negative way. I got to meet a lot of the prisoners and chat to them. They’ve obviously all made some bad choices in life which have brought them into prison, but there is no reason for us to condemn anyone for the rest of their lives.

“I spoke to them about what happened to me and how I got my life back together and, if in some way it helps anyone in prison here get their life back on track, then surely it can only be good.”

Life sentence prisoner Brian was one of those impressed by Mr Slater.

“Duncan’s story was inspirational,” he said.

“It made me realise that you can deal with whatever life throws at you, that with a little help and support you can get through the hard times.

“Coming into prison was a big shock for me, but I’m learning to cope with it. I know I’ve got to make the most of it, and hearing how Duncan has overcome life-changing injuries to become the man he is today is a massive boost.”

Andy Tosh, head of the Prisoner Development Unit, which organised the visit to Maghaberry, said: “Duncan is just one of a number of motivational speakers we have invited into Maghaberry recently to talk to prisoners and staff about their own personal experiences.

“His presentation was a powerful story of overcoming adversity, teamwork, humility, compassion and sense of self. He presented with humour and grace and I fail to see how anyone could not find this story of huge inspiration.

“From a Prison Service perspective, this is a very worthwhile initiative to help rehabilitate, reduce offending and encourage those who leave prison to play a positive role when they return to the community.”

A cheque for £1,000 from Northern Ireland Prison Service, raised at a staff barbecue, was presented to Mr Slater at the conclusion of his visit for the Walking with the Wounded charity.