Officer ‘didn’t see static soldier’

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Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor

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An Army officer running a test march in which three reservists died failed to spot one of the soldiers had stopped moving for at least 44 minutes, an inquest has heard.

The officer said he did not spot Lance Corporal Edward Maher was no longer moving because he had not “hovered the mouse (cursor)” over the reservist’s GPS tracker, monitored on his computer while sitting in the command vehicle.

Doing so would have presented detailed information on his route times, and distance travelled, he told the inquest.

The coroner for Birmingham and Solihull Louise Hunt said: “It is quite difficult for me to understand how you wouldn’t notice.

“When Edward was found, there were signs that he was already developing rigor mortis.”

The officer replied: “At the time, I hadn’t noticed that that tracker was static.”

Ms Hunt then asked the witness, a regular with the Army Signals who himself passed the SAS selection course in 1997, if he had been “properly monitoring” the soldiers’ progress.

He replied: “I was in the front of the (command) vehicle, and I was monitoring the screen, yes.”

The officer was speaking at an inquest exploring the circumstances surrounding the deaths of L/Cpl Maher, Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, and Corporal James Dunsby, following the march on the Brecon Beacons on July 13 2013.

Each of the soldiers was carrying, in addition to at least 49lbs of kit, a GPS tracker which showed their movements, updated every 10 minutes, to the test commanders.

Police investigations later found L/Cpl Maher had stopped moving at 2.16pm, that day.

But the officer said that at 3pm, he decided to dismantle one of the route’s five checkpoints on the basis “everyone was making good progress”.

He said: “I have tried, as you can imagine, been thinking about this every day for two years, why it wasn’t picked up and at the time no alarm bells were ringing.

“I wasn’t looking at that individual tracker with any concern.

“Everyone was making good progress.”

But the coroner said: “It seems to me it’s all a bit cursory.

“You just look at the (computer) screen, decide to shut checkpoint, and didn’t do any analysis of where candidates actually were, and what their speed was?”

She added: “So you actually had no idea, how he was moving?”

The officer replied: “I was content the position was suitable – from a position point of view, not a time point of view, it was.”

Earlier, he had described the tracking system itself as “not fit for purpose” as it was “fairly old”, adding concerns about the system were “well known”.

Concern was eventually raised for L/Cpl Maher, but the inquest previously heard that it is not thought a medic reached the 31-year-old until 4.45pm by which time he was cold to the touch.

Turning to the events of the following day, when another test march was planned around Wales’ highest peak, the Army officer told the coroner it turned out to be “an absolute nightmare”.

He recounted that press, public and investigation teams descended on the area, all while he was trying to run a secure march.

The night previously, he had spoken with the commanding officer of the reserves’ unit with misgivings about taking any more of their troops out on the mountainside, after what had happened on July 13.

However, it was agreed the reserves would join the regulars on the second day of test marching , but complete a shorter route.

Asked by the coroner what he thought of the decision to press on, he admitted he was “not happy” but the decision made was above his head.

He confirmed there were further instances of reservists going down with heat injuries on July 14, and of reservists being taken off the march altogether.

Ms Hunt then asked: “What do you think caused these three men to die, that day?

He replied: “It’s inconceivable to me how three men from the same unit, living in the same room, undergoing the same selection process should suffer the same injuries on the same day all around the same time when they were going so well.

“These were clearly determined, motivated, dedicated, focused soldiers.

“They had already been assessed as suitable to start test week by unit.

“However, in my opinion, the course syllabus for preparation unfortunately didn’t provide them with the suitable conditioning to undertake the arduous test week requirements.”

She asked if the dynamic risk assessment which he carried out on the day of the fatal exercise was adequate.

After a long pause, he replied saying “there should be more consideration” given to the process.

All three reservists collapsed during a 16-mile (26km) test march on one of the hottest days of the year.

L/Cpl Roberts, aged 24 and originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, and L/Cpl Maher, born in Hampshire, were both pronounced dead on the mountainside.

The lance corporals both died from the effects of heat.

Corporal Dunsby, 31, of Trowbridge, Wiltshire, died on July 30 from multiple organ failure having been transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham.

Published: Friday 12th June 2015 by The News Editor

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