TRIBUTES have been paid to a soldier who was killed as he made his way back to base after a night out.

Matthew James Cottrell, 24, died following a collision with a coach on a notorious stretch of the A35 between Poole and Bere Regis in the early hours of Saturday.

The Sapper in the Royal Engineers, who was training at Bovington, had been for a night out in Poole.

He had got out of a taxi halfway home in the Organford area because he did not have enough cash for the whole journey and set off on foot.

His fiancee Debbie Smith heard the devastating news while on her hen party in Prague.

At Sapper Cottrell’s family home in Southport, Merseyside, his parents Julie and Steve, and brothers Paul and Luke, were said by neighbours to be “absolutely devastated”.

One neighbour described Sapper Cottrell, who learned a trade as a mechanic before joining the Army as “one of the nicest people you could wish to know”.

Army friend Kris-topher Knight told how he and colleagues raced to the scene of the collision after the news broke.

In a message on Facebook he said: “There was nothing we could do – we tried to get you round but you were already gone.

“Our thoughts are with your family and you will never be forgotten. Take it easy, buddy.”

Sapper Cottrell was on an unlit stretch of the A35 near the Bloxworth turning about 3am. It is believed he was walking or running when he was hit by an Excelsior coach.

Sergeant Dave Stroud from Dorset Police described the accident as a “tragic”.

Sapper Cottrell suffered serious head injuries and died at the scene.

The coach driver, a 55-year-old man from Bournemouth, was treated for shock.

There were no passengers on the coach.

An inquest into Sapper Cottrell’s death was opened and adjourned at Bournemouth yesterday.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101.