Soldier's death blamed on punishment ritual

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Police are investigating the chain of events that led to a soldier's death after he was forced to do strenuous exercises in extreme heat as a punishment for spraying guests at an officers' mess with a fire extinguisher.

Pte Gavin Williams, aged 22, from Hengoed, Mid Glamorgan, was undertaking a disciplinary exercise alone at Lucknow Barracks at Tidworth, Wiltshire, when he collapsed and died on Monday. He is said to have been drinking after England's World Cup match before his "prank" at the barracks.

Detectives are attempting to find out who ordered the punishment of the soldier, who is said to have had a number of other complaints made against him. Five serving members from his regiment, the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh, have been arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and are being questioned by Wiltshire Police.

Four of the men being held ­ aged 44, 35, 31 and 28 ­ are believed to be non-commissioned officers. They were arrested on Monday and officers have been granted an extra 12 hours to hold the men. The fifth man, 29, was arrested yesterday on suspicion of manslaughter. The Ministry of Defence refused to confirm or deny that he was an officer.

The soldier collapsed just after midday on Monday and was taken to Salisbury Hospital, where he died. A post-mortem examination was being performed at the hospital yesterday.

Ambulance crews were called to the scene and a spokeswoman for Wiltshire Ambulance Trust said that Pte Williams appeared "hot and agitated" . She would not comment on reports that he had suffered heat exhaustion.

Ministry of Defence sources have confirmed that the soldier had returned to the barracks on Saturday where he had let off a fire extinguisher. But sources say that this was not the only incident for which the soldier was being punished.

According to an acquaintance of the dead man, he had been drinking late into the night in Salisbury after watching the football match on television. After the incident with the fire extinguisher, in which those drenched were mainly civilians attending a reception, he was allegedly made to do an exercise routine in temperatures of up to 33C.

The MoD said the matter was "being taken extremely seriously". The scale and swiftness of the inquiry is an attempt by the MoD to show transparency and accountability after the criticism levelled at it over the deaths of four recruits at Deepcut barracks in Surrey.

Detectives from Wiltshire Police are expected to take the lead rather than the Royal Military Police. Although the Wiltshire force has technical jurisdiction over the inquiry because the soldier died at Salisbury Hospital, the practice in the past would have been to hand the matter over to military police.

A builder working on a nearby accommodation block at the barracks said he saw a group of soldiers "sweltering" during a midday exercise. The builder, who did not want to be named, said: "The weather was absolutely boiling... but these guys were wearing the full kit­ trousers, boots, heavy duty jackets, hard hats and carrying heavy packs as well as weapons. They had full military combat gear on and they looked boiling hot."