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MoD could face manslaughter charges over training deaths following calls it should lose immunity from prosecution

The highest penalty it can receive currently is Crown Censure - an official record of failure to meet the standards set by law

Kim Sengupta
Defence Editor
Sunday 24 April 2016 00:07 BST
Corporal James Dunsby, one of three soldiers who died during the gruelling SAS endurance test on the Brecon Beacons
Corporal James Dunsby, one of three soldiers who died during the gruelling SAS endurance test on the Brecon Beacons (Rex)

The British military could face charges of corporate manslaughter under landmark changes in law being proposed by a parliamentary committee.

MPs carrying out an inquiry into deaths of servicemen and women in training exercises have concluded that the Ministry of Defence should lose the exemption from prosecution, Crown Immunity, it currently enjoys.

The Commons Defence Committee holds in a report that current rules under which the military faces Crown Censure by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the highest penalty it can receive, is inadequate.

Crown Censure is an official record of failure to meet the standards set by law. There is acknowledgment in Whitehall of growing public concern over service deaths during training and there is a strong possibility, say officials, that the law may need to be amended.

In a report titled “Beyond Endurance? Military Exercises and the Duty of Care”, the Committee noted that 135 personnel had died between 1 January 2000 and 20 February 2016 on training and exercises, resulting in the MoD receiving 11 Crown Censures.

Madeleine Moon, MP for Bridgend, who chaired the inquiry, said: “Where a Crown Censure has been issued, it should be possible to prosecute the MoD. The lives of service personnel are worth no less than those of civilians and those responsible for their deaths must be equally liable under the law.”

The Committee stressed that exemptions should continue for military operations. But it should be lifted, it held, when it comes to “hazardous training and selection events and the current complete exemption for Specialist Military Units”.

The issue received widespread publicity after three SAS recruits, Corporal James Dumsby, Lance Corporals Edward Maher and Craig Roberts, died from heat illness during a training exercise in the Brecon Beacons in the Summer of 2013.

At the inquest into their deaths in Solihull, coroner Louise Hunt concluded that a catalogue of errors had been made by those who had organised the arduous march, and that the emergency response when the men collapsed was chaotic.

After the HSE issued the MoD with a Crown Censure some of the bereaved relatives expressed their anger. David Dumsby, the father of Corporal Dumsby, said the Censure felt like merely “a slap on the wrist”. He added “ We know what happened shouldn’t have happened. Who was to blame? To me it was the establishment, half a dozen people who it around a table at Whitehall. Not the people who were in charge on the day, any prosecution should be of people at a higher level.”

Hilary Meredith, of the legal firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors, who gave evidence to the parliamentary inquiry, said: “It is a fact that more men and women die while training for war than in war, and this can’t be acceptable on any front. We acknowledge that training has to be realistic, but not to the point of death.

“We are not talking about unfortunate accidents here, we are talking about a blatant disregard for life... In the Brecon Beacons three men lost their lives in one incident. That is atrocious, the MoD should hide its head in shame. It’s too easy to blame the individual on the ground.”

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