Soldier who drowned during training exercise had failed swimming test, inquest hears

Private John Lomas died when his raft overturned on an Austrian river

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A British soldier who drowned during a training exercise had failed a military swimming test and should not have been allowed in water, an inquest has heard.

Private John Lomas, 22, of the Royal Logistic Corps, based in Germany, died when the raft he was in overturned on an Austrian river.

The inquest heard that the officer in charge of the adventure training, Captain Eddy Foster, tried to check whether the troops involved had the necessary swimming skills but was told their records could not be relied upon. Pte Lomas had failed the military swimming test, a compulsory requirement under Ministry of Defence safety rules.

Capt Foster told the inquest at Stoke-on-Trent that when he and his troop sergeant asked the soldiers whether they had passed the test, none of them admitted that they could not swim. It later emerged that four of those taking part had failed military swim tests and should not have participated.

 

The inquest heard evidence that some soldiers later claimed they were never asked about their swimming abilities. Capt Foster, who was cleared by a military court martial of negligent duty, said he thought some of the soldiers had forgotten being asked.

The officer admitted it was the first time he had organised adventure training. An Austrian company provided the white-water rafting experience and he had relied on it to provide an assessment of the dangers involved.

Assistant Coroner Margaret Jones said one of the owners of the rafting company and the guide on the raft had both declined offers to give evidence in person or by video link. The company involved faced a manslaughter trial in Austria but was cleared.

Pte Lomas, from Meir, Stoke on Trent, had taken part in a swimming test during a kayak exercise a few days before he drowned but had expressed his unhappiness in the water and had sat out the rest of the exercise.

Capt Foster said Pte  Lomas could have sat out of the rafting if he had asked. The officer said he believed Lomas had passed the swim test but was a “weak swimmer” who “wanted to give it a go”. He said the first time he was aware of trouble was when one of the rafts flipped over in the water. He saw Pte Lomas face down in the water and instructed his men to paddle over to him. They got him to the river bank and tried to unsuccessfully to resuscitate him. He was declared dead at the scene.

The inquest was told the Army’s computer system for recording personnel data was often incomplete or wrong.

Major Robert Whitaker, a staff officer at Sandhurst military college, said great effort had been made after the death to improve access to the accurate troop data.

The hearing continues.

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