Failure to observe the golden rule led to disaster: Hugh McManners, a jungle warfare expert, questions whether the expedition was worth the extreme risks

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The Independent Online
WHY DID THEY split into two groups, when the golden rule is to keep the team together?

Lt-Col Neill has been taken to task for his failure to curb the lead group - a failure of communication. The Army holds individuals responsible for actions in accordance with their rank. The colonel was in overall command of the expedition, and so is being held responsible for the totality of its failings - with his second-in-command Major Ron Foster.

Having decided that the junior NCOs did not disobey any lawful commands - and so did their duty in carrying on down the gully - the Army holds them responsible only for their own actions, as opposed to the effects of their actions on the group as a whole, which was Lt-Col Neill's responsibility.

The NCOs succeeded in their mission, and so, their competence being judged at the rank they hold, have received commendations.

However, this was not a wartime operation. As well as being NCOs, they are also people - whose decision to crack on regardless transformed a rather amateurish sideshow into an international disaster, through creating a lemming-like moral imperative for the others. Despite a possible Guinness Book of Records entry, the NCOs do not score highly on the commonsense scoreboard.

But Services 'Adventure Training' is not about achieving world firsts. The nature of the challenge is important. I could be the first person to attempt lying down in the fast lane of the M6, but is that a responsible, useful challenge? The Royal Marines (holders of the world abseiling record) had a look at Low's Gully a few years ago - and gave it a miss. Of course this to challenge the whole raison d'etre of the expedition, and to ask how Lt-Col Neill persuaded the authorities to authorise his endeavour in the first place.

The writer is the former commando major who ran the British Army's Jungle Warfare Training School in Belize.

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