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Death-march soldier 'told to go on'

Published 02/06/2015

Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby, who collapsed and died during an SAS training exercise
Army reservist Corporal James Dunsby, who collapsed and died during an SAS training exercise

A heat-stricken soldier was allowed to continue on a 16-mile special forces selection march despite being withdrawn on medical grounds, a coroner has heard.

The second day of an inquest into the deaths of three army reservists was told that a fourth part-time soldier was initially pulled out of the test march in the Brecon Beacons due to the effects of heat.

Giving evidence from a screened-off witness box, the reservist, known by the cipher 1W, said a medic withdrew him from the march at a checkpoint.

The soldier, who had experienced dizziness and confusion, said the medic told him "You don't want to die" shortly before he was told to carry on with the march.

The inquest into the deaths of Lance Corporal Craig Roberts, Lance Corporal Edward Maher and Corporal James Dunsby has heard that they collapsed due to hyperthermia on one of the hottest days of 2013.

Explaining how he was allowed to continue despite being withdrawn from the march on July 13, 1W told the inquest: "The medic sat me down and took my temperature.

"I said I wasn't great and at that point I don't think my nose was still bleeding but there was blood around my face.

"The medic pulled me off the march - he said that he had noticed (from a tracking device) that I had stopped moving for an extended period of time.

"He said to me 'You want to wake up in the morning, you don't want to die'."

The soldier, who joined the reserve army in 2012, said he was both relieved and disappointed at being withdrawn.

But he then overheard a radio conversation between a member of the march's directing staff and a chief instructor, known as Soldier 1B.

Soldier 1W told the inquest: "It was asked, could I complete the march? The medic said 'He probably could but won't complete in time' and from that I was told to continue."

During his evidence, 1W claimed he was unaware before the exercise that two of the five checkpoints on his route would have no water supplies.

Soldier 1W was asked by the Birmingham coroner, Louise Hunt, whether he had questioned the decision for him to carry on despite being withdrawn.

The reservist - the fourth witness at the inquest - replied: "I wanted to finish the march and if there was a chance I could finish then I wasn't going to question the decision-making."

Asked if he was still confused when he left the checkpoint, the serviceman added: "I was very tired and lethargic but I wouldn't say I was confused at this point."

While still within sight of the checkpoint, the inquest heard, soldier 1W again felt dizzy and then began veering off his route to the next checkpoint on Pen y Fan.

Soldier 1W later blacked out and sought shade under an overhang after regaining consciousness, but decided to carry on rather than activate his "man down" alarm.

The reservist subsequently crossed paths with another soldier who was "in a bad way" about three miles from the end of the march, at the foot of Pen y Fan.

"He told me that he had no water left," 1W told the court. "He was definitely not himself - he talked about walking to a city, which was completely irrelevant to what we were doing."

Eventually 1W made it to checkpoint two, on Pen y Fan, after being helped to his feet by a walker, and heard further radio traffic "saying that there were soldiers down" before he was taken to hospital.

Another soldier, known at the hearing as 2P, described how he was withdrawn due to heat exhaustion at about 12.45pm.

He told the coroner: "It was instantly obvious how hot the day was and how hot it was going to be.

"I don't know whether I collapsed but recall coming round and being surrounded by a couple of colleagues on the course who were fanning me.

"They were looking for and pressing my emergency beacon.

"After a period of time I remember treatments and assessments taking place and I remember being escorted down the main Beacons Way, with both chief instructors supporting my body weight."

Asked by Ms Hunt to give his view of what could have been done to mitigate the heat, 2P continued: "Being able to wear different clothing, to start earlier in the day, more water stops - those are my estimations as to what may have assisted me on that day.

"Having done that march numerous times before with the same weight (of kit) and the same clothing, the only thing different on that day was the particular increase in heat."

L/Cpl Roberts, 24, originally from Penrhyn Bay, Conwy, was pronounced dead on the mountainside, while L/Cpl Maher and Corporal Dunsby, both 31, were taken to hospital.

L/Cpl Maher, who was born in Winchester, died later the same day in Merthyr Tydfil's Prince Charles Hospital.

Cpl Dunsby, from Bath, Somerset, died on July 30 after being transferred to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham.

The inquest, sitting in Solihull, West Midlands, was adjourned until 9.30am tomorrow.

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