A PARATROOPER who carried the coffin of Margaret Thatcher has defended his behaviour after drinking a pint of lager containing two live goldfish for a neknomination stunt.

Lance Corporal James Steel, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, claimed the two fish survived and were now being looked after by his girlfriend.

The 25-year-old was a pallbearer at Mrs Thatcher’s funeral in April.

He told a national newspaper it had been a “stupid” dare, but added: “The fish did survive. I got them back up and gave them to my girlfriend – she now has them in a bowl.

“I decided to do it that way because I thought it was funny.”

The soldier, who has served in Afghanistan, defended the stunt, adding: “I have an impeccable career as a soldier but I’m also a human being, I don’t walk around in my uniform all day. I was just doing what the rest of the country is doing.”

But animal charity the RSPCA said it was horrified by the number of neknomination pranks which involved cruelty to animals.

Urging people to report incidents, a spokesman said: “Eating a live animal and sharing a film of it isn’t funny.

“It sends a message that animal cruelty is okay as long as it is presented in a light-hearted way.”

Mr Steel’s father, Gary, said he worried about his son more when he was not in Afghanistan.

The neknomination craze has led to the deaths of at least one Britain.

Former grammar school pupil Isaac Richardson, 20, collapsed after downing a lethal concoction of wine, whisky, vodka and lager.

The craze is also being linked to the death of a second man, Stephen Brookes, 29, who drank a pint of vodka before falling ill.

In the North-East, 21-year-old Inky Ralph made national headlines after riding into Tesco, in St Helen Auckland, County Durham, and drinking a can of Pepsi.