Test boss ‘unaware of hot forecast’

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Published: Thursday 11th June 2015 by The News Editor

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An Army officer in charge of a fatal SAS test march has admitted he was unaware of media reports predicting it would coincide with the hottest day of the year.

Giving evidence to an inquest into the deaths of three reservists in July 2013, the training officer also said he was “happy” with a generic risk assessment prepared for the 16-mile (26km) march in South Wales.

Using the cipher 1A to protect his identity, the officer began his evidence by offering his condolences to the families of Corporal James Dunsby and Lance Corporals Craig Roberts and Edward Maher.

The inquest has heard that both Lance Corporals were pronounced dead on the Brecon Beacons, having succumbed to heat illness, while Cpl Dunsby died later in Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

Responding to a series of questions from Birmingham Coroner Louise Hunt, 1A said he had last undertaken training on heat illness six years before the march.

The soldier, who undertook the gruelling SAS selection process in 1997, told the inquest: “Because we had been operating down there in similar conditions for the previous two weeks I am content that my risk assessment was meeting requirement.

“I was happy that the risk assessment had met the requirement of the previous two (special forces selection) courses that I had run and also courses before that.”

Confirming that the risk assessment was the same as that prepared for the “lead regular unit”, 1A said march distances and weights to be carried had not changed since 1997.

“They (the regular SAS unit) are providing the direction, the syllabus and the standards,” 1A said.

“Because of the size of who they are, everything we do is linked to them to ensure that everything we are delivering is in line with their policy.”

During lengthy questioning by Ms Hunt, 1A was asked: “Were you aware that the media was reporting that it was going to be the hottest day of the year?”

1A replied: “No, I wasn’t. I certainly wasn’t tracking that it was predicted.”

Ms Hunt then read out a series of temperatures recorded on July 13 – when the march took place – and the previous nine days.

Met Office readings taken in the village of Libanus showed temperatures rising from 19C (66.2F) on July 4 to a peak of 28.1C (82.6F) on July 13.

The coroner then asked 1A: “In relation to the temperature, did you have any discussions with the lead regular unit about the weather?”

1A answered: “Not that I can recall.”

Fielding questions about the hot conditions, the chain of command on July 13, and his knowledge of heat illness, 1A added: “There was no reason to discuss the weather as far as we were concerned.

“I was delivering an activity that was directed to me. So I had a responsibility, absolutely, but I don’t think I owned the risk.

“I would have had some training (on heat illness) on pre-deployment training. I have been to both Iraq and Afghanistan and various other countries.”

But the training officer said he had received no formal training on writing risk assessments, and was “still not clear” on the definition of a heat illness.

Officer 1A was shielded from view by a specially-constructed witness box and could not be seen from the public gallery and part of the inquest courtroom occupied by family members.

He also described special forces reserve units as “subservient” to their parent unit.

After saying he had not seen a Ministry of Defence algorithm governing military heat illness cases, 1A was asked further questions about his knowledge of weather conditions.

Daily Met Office updates were available in a cookhouse at his training camp, 1A said, and had predicted a temperature of 25C (77F).

Ms Hunt asked the witness: “At the time, did that mean anything in particular to you?”

“I had no alarm bells ringing,” 1A said. “I didn’t consider it to be anything outside of what we had been working in.”

L/Cpl Roberts, originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, and L/Cpl Maher, who was born in Hampshire, both died from the effects of heat.

Cpl Dunsby, from Trowbridge, Wiltshire, died from multi-organ failure caused by hyperthermia.

The inquest, sitting in Solihull, was adjourned until tomorrow.

Published: Thursday 11th June 2015 by The News Editor

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