Army training may have put tourists at risk on Pembrokeshire beach


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The Independent Online

A tourist beach outside a popular seaside resort may have been sprayed with machine gun fire during training in which an Army ranger was shot dead.

Machine gun fire was directed towards Freshwater West Beach, near Tenby, West Wales, in a mistake which could have proved lethal.

The beach, well known to surfers, is situated less than one and a half miles (2.4km) along the coast from Castlemartin Ranges where the Army trains recruits.

Civilians ran the risk of being shot and killed themselves on the day one soldier died after a fatal error.

Soldiers at the shooting ranges are put through highly realistic exercises designed to be as close to battle conditions as possible.

Rifles, machine guns and hand grenades, using live ammunition, are used in what are supposed to be strictly controlled conditions.

But in May last year Michael "Mike" Maguire, 21, was hit in the temple by a single machine gun bullet probably fired from 0.6 miles (1km) away.

Ranger Maguire, originally from County Cork, Ireland, was a member of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Irish Regiment.

He was standing in a designated safe haven beyond where live fire training was taking place having just finished an exercise himself.

An inquest jury in Cardiff has previously been to the sprawling series of shooting ranges to see where the tragedy happened.

They have heard that soldiers shoot out to sea and within specific map co-ordinates which restrict firing to a narrow channel.

Evidence suggests a fellow soldier firing a machine gun at a designated target placed on the range hit ranger Maguire.

The jury heard evidence today suggesting that civilians who may have been relaxing at a nearby pleasure beach could also have been hit.

Captain Gary Palmer, an Army weapons expert, investigated the tragedy in parallel with the police to ensure later recruits trained safely.

He highlighted today that soldiers under the command of Lieutenant Jonathan Price had shot outside the safe areas specified.

In particular they shot outside a designated area designed to ensure their bullets were no danger to other soldiers on shooting exercises themselves.

Steps taken to guard against this are called "deconfliction" and appear to have gone seriously wrong during the day.

It meant a machine gunner attacking a static target placed at the range for the exercise shot over land.

Ranger Maguire, relaxing 0.6 miles (1km) away without his protective helmet and armour, fell within its range.

Other soldiers on similar live fire exercises were also probably unwittingly shot at.

Freshwater (West) Beach, 1.6 miles (2.5km) north west of where the machine gun was placed, was also within the same potentially deadly area.

Capt Palmer said the "full weapon danger area" for the machine gun was judged to be 1.8 miles (2.9km).

Vale of Glamorgan Coroner Mary Hassall said: "It is about 2.5 kilometres to the beach from Tenby therefore by pointing north west the general purpose machine gun (GPMG) was within the full weapon danger area.

"That means a bullet could go from the gun to Freshwater beach."

Capt Palmer said: "Yes. If it had clear line of sight without hitting anything on the way."

"Very plainly within the full weapon danger area of the range," Mrs Hassall added.

The Visit Pembrokeshire website describes the beach as "a surfers' paradise", highlighting just how popular it is.

Its rugged and picturesque contours have also featured in a number of films.

"The beach is wide, sandy and backed by an extensive system of dunes. The dunes are fragile so no camping or barbecues are allowed. There's a rocky reef at the southern end and some quiet bays at the other," the website states.

"The beach to the south is Frainslake sands but it's inside the Castlemartin ranges so is out of bounds."

It adds: "Freshwater West has featured in two recent films - Ridley Scott's Robin Hood and also Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows where it was used as the back drop for Dobby's Shell Cottage, which was built on site down to the smallest detail including the seaweed.

"Although the cottage was taken down after filming you can still walk in the footsteps of Harry, Hermione and Ron.

"There are two small free car parks but if the surf is up, parking is hard to find. It's camper van city! Some parking is available along the very narrow road. Avoid it on Bank Holidays."