The friends of a much-loved Chester man killed in a suicide bomb blast in Afghanistan at the weekend, have paid tribute to a ‘genuinely likeable guy with a big heart’.
Simon Chase, who grew up in Blacon and went to Bishops' Blue Coat CE High School, was named on Saturday as one of two British nationals killed in a suicide and gun attack at a busy Kabul restaurant on Friday night .
Former Bishop’s High School pupil Mr Chase, known as 'Si', was a former soldier in the Cheshire regiment and was on a private security detail with the EU police mission Eupol when the attack occurred.
The 41-year-old father-of-two had only been in Afghanistan since the beginning of December and was due to return to his home in the Co. Londonderry town of Limavady, where he lived with his partner and young child, later this month.
The attack, in the Wazir Akbar Khan neighbourhood, home to a number of foreign embassies and organisations, was described to be 'horrific'.
As the suicide bomber blew himself up outside the popular La Taverna du Liban restaurant, two gunmen sneaked in through a back door and opened fire. They were eventually shot dead by the security forces when they arrived at the scene.
Mr Chase is believed to have died trying to protect a female police officer, who was also killed.
The attack has shocked many old friends of Mr Chase, who kept in touch with him regularly on Facebook. Carl Johnson, who lived a few doors down from Simon on Poet’s Corner Estate, Blacon when they were growing up, said the news of his friend’s death had ‘devastated’ he and those who had known him.
“We weren’t majorly close in recent years but had been friends for decades from our childhood.
“We stayed friends into our teen years. I’d left home and joined the Army at 16 and I remember Si writing to me to say he was thinking of joining,” he recalled.
“But he was with another regiment so it meant we weren’t as close; he met his partner and based himself in Northern Ireland, but we kept in touch on Facebook.
“We always had a lot of football rivalry banter because he was an Evertonian and we were Liverpool.
“But we had so many good times in our youth. I remember particularly we went on a lads trip to Blackpool in the early 90s.
“I’d been away and the lads picked me up from the airport and we just went to Blackpool for a lads night. We were just young blokes having fun which is obvious in the picture we have from that day.
“The other lads on that picture are all devastated after hearing the news.”
Mr Johnson, 43, added: “I heard what had happened on Friday when a mutual distant relative rang me at my mum’s.
“I told the lads and we were all just devastated – it still felt like he lived next door.
“Our condolences go to his family in Ireland but also to his family in Chester.”
Earlier this week, the Belfast Telegraph reported that the Union flag flew at half-mast at Limavady war memorial as a mark of respect to Mr Chase.
Churches across the town said prayers for ‘the Englishman who had been easily adopted by the townspeople as one of their own.’
“Si was just a really funny guy – so sharp and so witty,” added Mr Johnson, who now lives in Penymynydd, Flintshire.
“People called it sarcasm, which was no doubt honed during his time with the forces.”
“He could make a room erupt with laughter – he was a big guy with a really big heart.
“A genuinely likeable guy and I’m just gutted he’s not here anymore.”